There's a scene at the very end of the book where the main characters are chopping down a tree. This is in no way going to spoil the plot, by the way, because it has absolutely nothing to do with anything. You don't expect trees in cyberpunk novels. But this scene got me nostalgic for my younger days, cutting down trees in my grandparents' backyard.
My paternal grandparents owned two acres more or less at the edge of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (a wonderful place, by the way, if you like parks). Their backyard was four times as long as it was wide, and sloped down the entire way into a series of two tiers. The first tier was just normal lawn, but as the ground gave way toward the rearmost part, the trees sprung up everywhere, and the land turned marshy. Every year or two, my entire extended family would get together to chop down trees in the marshy area and have a bonfire.
These were not mere saplings, either; everything back there was full grown and had been around forever. We went after diseased trees first (I recall the willows in particular didn't last long), but eventually it just became a ritual to take out something that grandma and grandpa didn't want there.
We would make a day of it, usually playing bocce or croquet (with wickets set so that you had to really whack those balls uphill to get through them*) before getting to the dirty work. Then out would come the chainsaws and hand saws, the work gloves, the riding mower and its wagon hitch. I was allowed to drive it when I got old enough, but mostly I just enjoyed riding around in it.
Our target chosen, the adults would set about making cuts in the trunk to weaken it enough that it would fall. Picking the right direction was imperative, to keep it from flattening any of us or getting tangled up in shorter trees. Invariably, one or two would be stubborn and refuse to topple despite the constant cutting, which was always hilarious. We rooted for the designated lumberjack, who was on a razor's edge, ready to run the moment the trunk started to give. Then would come the unmistakable sound of a falling tree: a crack, a groan and the endless crashing as it toppled to the ground. Twigs snapped, bark ripped, large limbs sometimes buried themselves deep into the mud.
Felling a tree is an amazing experience. Suddenly, the sky has changed, you can see more of it. The tree's shadow is gone, the area brightens up. There is an incredible, primordial stillness that settles around the death of a tree. I remember the pungent smell of freshly exposed wood, and being covered in saw dust and wood chips. If we were felling a maple, sometimes we would sample the sweet sap, although that too was full of sawdust and wood chips. I would stand on the horizontal trunk and walk its length, even if I was small enough that I needed dad's help getting up and down, and take stock of fungal infestations, insect colonies, and odd formations in the bark.
Chopping the tree up was where everyone was able to pitch in, either sawing or trimming off smaller branches, or carting the brush and logs around with the mower. Of course, most of the behemoth would be destined for the bonfire, which we liked to build high and burn long into the night. We would roast hot dogs and marshmallows and have a great time, going home smelling like wood smoke, a scent I still love to this day.
Lately, I've been having some weird ideas about trees, admiring them in, well, a tree-hugging sort of way. We tend to think of them as simply part of the scenery, and I sort of understand why: contemplating each of these monsters as a living being is kind of mind-blowing. They've been around for decades, often centuries. They were here before we were, they'll be here after we're done. They don't care about a whole lot; they just sort of hang out and try to get as much of the good stuff as they can. Killing one is sort of a travesty, even if one intends to use a tree for something constructive or if it was suffering from disease. Still, cutting a tree down with your bare hands is one of the most primal things a person can do, a perfect example of humankind's power over nature. I imagine we felt only a smidgen of what the American settlers did, as they cut through swaths of forest to build and heat their homes on the frontier. I consider it a way of communing with nature, of participating in the end cycle of life, and I recommend everyone try it if they have a chance.**
Dan Walker (pseudonym) is a writer from Northeast Ohio, who would be teaching ESL if he wasn't
***This post was originally written March 1, 2011 to give the regular blogger a chance to recover from a horrendous cold.
LibsNote: I received an ARC directly from the publisher and passed it on to Dan. My posts about the book are here.
*That's what she said.
**Preferably with purpose, LibsLIB does not condone random acts of tree mauling.