Thursday, November 12, 2009

Leave the cannoli. Take the (second) chainsaw.

There is a wonderfully droll scene in The Godfather (which in turn inspired the equally wonderfully droll book of essays by Sarah Vowell) in which Clemenza and a nameless minion have just dispatched a suspected rat with a few shots fired into said rat's head from the back seat of a car. As the two men are casually preparing to leave the bloody scene, Clemenza looks at his none-too-bright minion and says with a tinge of irritation "Leave the gun. Take the Cannoli."

Priorities, you see...

I thought of that scene last week as I was sitting on the tailgate of my truck cursing (loudly and longly) trying vainly to start a chainsaw that, up to that point, had never failed to start and indeed had never given me so much as a hiccup in the number of years I've used to it to fell trees, cut firewood and clear brush and the cursed Eastern redcedar.

But last week, it sure enough quit on me. And quit at a time when I was 30 miles from home and without the second chainsaw that I normally take as a back-up. I had forgotten to throw it in the truck. I was in a hurry because I wanted to cut a load of wood quickly and then lazily fritter away the rest of the afternoon hunting. Since we're heating mainly with wood this winter, enduring the former is how I usually justify (to the wife) getting away with the latter.

My chainsaw, however, wasn't cooperating with my plan. After it became apparent the damn thing wasn't going to start, I said to hell with it and decided to go hunting. The only problem was, there was no in hell my wife was ever going to believe that my chainsaw "just wouldn't start." It's November. It's bow season. And she's no fool. Somehow, I needed wood.

Then I remembered the 24-inch bow saw and and axe I always carry in my truck tool box, and thought "Silly modern man! Do you think your wood-cutting ancestors had chainsaws? Your great-grandfather's one-man crosscut saw hanging on the garage wall wasn't always decoration, you know."

So, with visions of self-sufficient rugged individualism looping through my head like some kind of uber-stylized Leni Riefenstahl-ish fantasy, I slung my saw and axe over my broad, rugged shoulder and sallied forth into the big woods, whistling Python's Lumberjack song as I went (Hey, it's the only lumberjack song I know...).

An hour later, with both my broad, rugged shoulders and all illusions shattered I came stumbling back, exhausted, soaked in sweat, rubbery, useless arms hanging from my sides like so much over-cooked pasta. I had managed to cut enough wood to perhaps keep me warm overnight, provided the temperature didn't drop to, oh, say 65 degrees or so.

I figured that at this pace to fill the bed of my truck with a load of firewood, a task that - with a chainsaw - I can usually finish in two, maybe three hours of work would with bow saw and axe take me roughly until mid-January.

My "O, Pioneers" delusions thusly destroyed, I once again said to hell with it, threw the saw and axe back in the tool box, flipped off the chainsaw one last time, grabbed my bow and went hunting. Which is what I should have done in the first place.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a "Field Notes" blog about an anthropologist's claim that modern man is, compared to his forebears, a screaming pantywaist

All I can say is yes. Absolutely yes. I, for one, am a wimp. And if I ever find myself in some post-Apocalyptic zombie scenario in which I must prioritize what I take and what I leave, both the gun and the cannoli stay. But the chainsaw goes with me. After I tune it up.

***As a postscript to this story, the next day, for reasons known only to the whimsical gods of the two-stroke engine, that same chainsaw started on the second pull and cut two pick-up beds full of logs without a hitch. ***


  1. Did you see the chance the chainsaw god was trying to lead you to? Well you haven't mentioned it so I guess you didn't.
    The moral of this story?
    Give up at the first sign of resistance. Tools know!


  2. Funny, as I was reading this post, I thought about that one you wrote comparing us to our ancestors.

    Now excuse me, I'm going to go snuggle up with my natural gas heating system.