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Chainsaw apprentice

Sitting on a log with my sister, looking up as my father, who was on a ladder with no harness, or additional person to steady his weight or…

Chainsaw apprentice


Sitting on a log with my sister, looking up as my father, who was on a ladder with no harness, or additional person to steady his weight or to warn of any impending danger, calmly limbed the aged oak tree with a chainsaw—the same chainsaw that years later my sister would use to accidentally cut off the end of his index finger, which like a starfish or Prometheus's liver eventually regenerated itself so that all that remains of the incident is a small story and my sister's unabashed concern towards chainsaw safety—I could just make out the individual hunks of sawdust as they fell from the sky like wood colored snow.

Eventually, my father worked his way around the tree to be at the point where his considerable reach was not quite extensive enough to accommodate his hopes for a single-laddered-positioning of the entire task of limbing the giant oak. Not to give up his desire to do it all in one go, he reached and extended himself outwards to the left, shifting his body expertly to maintain his balance on the ladder. At some point in his extension, his elegant, complete, aesthetic, and athletic manipulation of his body to comport itself to the shape required for the task at hand, the ladder's ability to maintain a reasonable amount of friction against the bark of the old oak began to wane.

Soon, my father was in mid air. I do not know if my sister was watching. I could call her, now decades after the incident, and find out, but at this very moment, I am unsure. I, however, was watching, and saw him begin to slip. He did not make an attempt to right himself, but instead, responding like a confident driver of a skidding truck down a hill of ice, he leaned his body into the fall. This caused him to rotate mid air—to end up parallel to the ground—extended fully from the distal end of his arm, which still held the running chainsaw, to the end of his feet, which like a platform diver with a descent amount of grounding in the fundamentals of diving might be trained to do, were flexed and strong and pointed in unison towards the distant past. Breaking the line that was formed by his outstretched arm to his flexed feet he turned his head to spot my sister and me, to see where we were, to check our location on the ground.

He still did not make an attempt to right himself, but continued to fall parallel to the ground while he calmly threw the chainsaw in the opposite direction in which we were seated and then with a crack that rivaled the sound made by my own breaking leg a year later, or my step-brother's ten years past that (mine broke in the back spokes of a bicycle, and his across the helmet of a junior varsity defensive back) my father's ankle then hit the log on which my sister and I sat. It was a deep thump that echoed up through our spines. My father had fallen parallel the entire length of his 16-22 foot aluminum ladder, which had since rotated with his fall to crash in sympathy in the background of the wood cutting operation.

The chainsaw, which received only minimal damage, was retrieved, serviced, and then put to use again every few months for the next two decades. The sound of his cracking ankle stayed dormant for a while only to return a few years later when it became my job to split the wood for our daily fire each afternoon during the week, and each morning during the weekend. I couldn't place the sound at first, but then, somehow through the exquisite geometry required to actually split wood, rather than merely to chop at it, I remembered the parallel lines of distal extension, and the moment of complete impact and the natural vibration and sonorous reverberation of his body across the log through my spine—which was connected to my skull—which hung open like a forgotten screen door and served as the body of a cello that sang a single note only once.