Tuesday, October 30, 2007


This was lumberjacking weekend. There were a couple of teetering cedars right out front, leaning over the house and just waiting for a hurricane; a dead cedar right out back that was about 30 meters tall and slowly degrading, also just waiting for a hurricane, and an unbalanced oak that had to be professionally trimmed so that a reasonable amount of sunlight can fall on the garden when I figure out the sci-fi plans for my new anti-monkey fencing.

We called the local hub for such matters, and contracted for a crew who came on Saturday. The crew was a small bent-over man going on 80 years old! Echo and I stood there filling with doubt as he got out of his truck, sat down on the stone wall to put on his work boots and then asked for some salt to use in the purification ceremony before starting work.

Our doubts lasted until Mr. Azuma – that was his name – climbed smoothly from the upper end of his high ladder way to the tippy-top of the 25-meter oak and began pruning away, alternating handsaw and chainsaw while just holding on with his toes, moving around among the limbs with the grace of one who has done this sort of thing for a long, long time, until the oak looked very slim and stylish; he said it would grow into a nice shape henceforth and not grow any taller. We were reassured.

While he was preparing his solo felling of the huge dead cedar that stood only one meter from our new tile roof waiting for a hurricane, we asked him about the questionable chestnut tree that stands in the garden a few meters from said roof. He gave the tree a brief glance, said it had insect problems, would last maybe another 5-7 years, then would fall, but no immediate worry.

Then he revved up his chainsaw (a Shindaiwa 380), made some delicate surgical cuts in the big multi-ton dead cedar tree, now and then sighting along the intended path like a baseball pitcher, made a wedge out of a piece of my oak firewood, used a sledgehammer to drive it into the final cut, added another wider wedge a bit further over as he aimed some more and the tree wiggled at the top, rocked, tilted -- tilted more, then gave way with a crack and fell straight away from the house WHOOMP right between my rosemary and basil, which were stirred by the timber wind.

We talked while he ate his newspaper-wrapped simple bento lunch seated crosslegged on the deck, smiling and laughing at his own words, in a dialect I had to cut with a mental chainsaw. He'd been doing this work since he was young; lived alone, married twice, long ago, but it didn't take; cooks his own meals, grows his own rice, grows his own vegetables (why do otherwise, he said), makes his own sake, makes his own charcoal for cooking and heating, gave me the best intense course on chainsaw maintenance I ever had, then cut down the trees close in front of the house, felling them right where he aimed, sectioned them to the desired lengths and drove away.

What a guy.


Maya's Granny said...

There is nothing as pleasurable as watching someone do something well. I love to watch short order cooks flip eggs and carpenters build stairs and an entire plethora of things. I once fell in love with a man while watching him saw boards.

Mary Lou said...

IT was the tabies! (Spelling may be wrong) We wore them when we were kids, and it really helped us to keep our go-aheads on!

So now you have even MORE firewood to chop and split and stack! AHHHH warmth is nice!

mss @ Zanthan Gardens said...

What a joy to be able to find a true craftsman.

Trace said...

What a guy indeed. Sounds like one who has many lessons to offer...

hanameizan said...

Isn't it humbling to watch an old pro at work? While I get the chainsaw stuck in a trunk that has already been felled by the wind, they wield that gasoline-powered blade like a barber's fine scissors, snipping and trimming.

These are the men in the local sento with muscled bodies, albeit sagging somewhat after four-score decades.