“God! I hate working,” said the economist. “I’d hate to have to do it for a living.” His face was all red. The last time my face was that red, I’d just had a baby.

He’d spent the whole day chainsawing (I know). The towering pyres of uncut wood at our place not chopping themselves, the time had come to stump up (no pun intended) and buy a chainsaw. A Stihl. The Rolls Royce of chainsaws. “For once in my life I haven’t skimped,” he said. Although he did experience a flicker of buyer’s remorse, spotting $200 chainsaws at one of those tool barns – but they looked like they were made of Tupperware.

“Are you meat eaters?” asked the Stihl salesman. Oooh goody, I thought, he’s going to invite us to a barbeque. But no: “When the chain touches anything made of meat, it will produce a pound of mince per second.” He said this after the transaction had gone through. We were nevertheless tempted to hand it back.

Despite writing the starting instructions in my notebook, where it read like a bizarre haiku:  press choke down as far as it goes/pull once till fires/ throttle trigger hot start no choke – upon arriving home, we couldn’t get it to go. Taking it back to the shop, the salesman exchanged a look with his apprentice and went through the drill again. Successful ignition achieved, the economist seemed to feel he’d proved a point, and over the next week the chainsaw stayed so clean, you could have mounted it on a pedestal in the foyer of a law firm and called it modern art.

Chainsaws might be treacherous mincing machines, but I think you’ll find that’s only if you turn them on. Ours was the safest chainsaw in New Zealand. The economist started wearing the helmet-with-visor and earmuffs whenever I hinted he might like to use it, and looked up ‘tying a tourniquet one-handed’ on wikiHow after reading about the 37-year-old Te Puke man injured in a fight involving a chainsaw. It was clear we were experiencing a chainsaw block. A hoodoo. Something had to be done. Luckily, a pair of men’s men, all-rounders, good guys to have in a zombie apocalypse, recruited the economist for day of fellar-ing. He brought the instruction booklet with him.

“And do you think I could get them to listen?” he asked. “The first thing Tony did was a drop start (expressly forbidden, involves holding the chainsaw by the cord toggle and allowing gravity to start it). You’re not supposed to wave your chainsaw above your head either. “They did all these things CONSTANTLY. I kept tut-tutting.” It was like bring-a-kid-to-work day, if your dad was Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  

As much a part of manliness as spitting and explosions, talking to other men about chainsawing the economist adopts a completely different, deeper register, sniffs, and says ‘Mate’ a lot. Chicks are not privy to this arcane knowledge vault. Stihl waters run deep.

“We all had Stihls. I’ve got a 14 inch bar. Tony’s was a 30 inch – but it’s not about the size of your bar, it’s how you use it.” Putting on a pair of burrowed chaps, ready for a bit of scarfing and yelling ‘Timber!’ the boys tried to convince the economist he needn’t wear jeans underneath. He refused to fall for the forestry equivalent of tartan paint. “It’s like taking someone surfing for the first time and telling them the zip goes at the front.”

Former Kiwis league coach Graham Lowe has developed a vest for forestry workers that measures core temperature, heart rate, respiration, hydration, perspiration, can tell you whether the wearer is standing or sitting and their GPS. Sounding an alert when workers are tired, Lowe hopes they will save lives in an industry where fatigue is a major contributor to deaths. In lieu of vests, the only audible danger signal these tree fellers had was the waka waka of the Westpac rescue helicopter. If you heard it, you’d be right in thinking things had gone a bit pear-shaped.

Did I mention the wood being cut was someone else’s? “When are you going to do ours?” I asked. “Darling I can’t do it now,” said the economist, flopping onto the couch.“My hands are all numb and my chain’s blunt.” Still, overcoming laziness and fear, he had left an economist and returned a Real Man. “I’m so proud of you,” I said, hoping this would stimulate future bursts of testosterone.

He was asleep.

AuthorLisa Scott