I said I’d post pictures of the birthday presents I bought myself, so here’s one of them: a Stihl weed-whacker with a rotating blade attachment. I bought the blade so I can finally start attacking the briar-patch jungle near our creek.
I had already done a bit of cutting when Chareva snapped these pictures, but you can still get a sense of how thick the briar jungle is.
I wore protective chaps and a helmet partly because everyone said it’s a good idea and partly because I’m a bit of chicken it comes to power tools – a trait I blame on my upbringing. My dad’s toolbox was a drawer in the kitchen. It contained two screwdrivers and a wrench, none of which he ever personally handled. There was also a rumor that he kept a hammer somewhere in the garage. As far as I know, he never used a chainsaw, miter saw, power drill or socket wrench in his entire life. He fixed things by picking up the phone and hiring people who knew how to fix things.
My dad once nearly junked a big, expensive TV after lightning struck the house and the TV went dead. He assumed something had exploded inside the TV and asked me to go with him to shop for a new one. Even though I inherited his lack of interest in tools, it occurred to me to fish a screwdriver from the kitchen drawer and remove the back of the TV. Yup, blown fuse. I bought a replacement at the hardware store for something like 25 cents and brought the TV back to life. My dad was awe-struck and considered me some kind of savant. He treated me to 18 holes of golf to say thanks.
Sometimes inherited traits seem to either skip a generation or come out of nowhere. Neither of my parents could play a musical instrument or sing on key (my mom has honored several requests not to sing at birthday parties), but I ended up playing in bands and writing songs. In a similar mysterious development, the Older Brother took to engines, power tools, baseball, fishing, hunting, and other regular-guy pursuits that either mystified or bored my dad. The first time the Older Brother rebuilt an engine as a teenager, my dad looked suspiciously at my mom until she pointed out which of the Older Brother’s features clearly came from dad’s side of the family.
Under the Older Brother’s tutelage, I learned to change the oil and spark-plugs on the Volkswagen I drove in college. That was the peak of my tool-man career. I spent most of my post-college life living in a small apartment in Chicago where, like my dad, I was satisfied with a hammer, screwdriver and wrench. I used the hammer to hang pictures, the screwdriver to pry open jars of peanut butter, and the wrench to … actually, I don’t think I ever used the wrench.
So naturally, Chareva concluded that a guy with my background would be the ideal candidate to buy a small farm that needs lots of work — work that not only requires using tools, but dangerous tools. Her dad’s a major power-tool guy who built his own working railroad around his property, so in her mind, these are just the kinds of things guys do.
I was able to mask my fear and ineptitude during our first year on the farm by claiming it would make more financial sense if I took on extra programming work and then paid other people to do the hacking and banging and sawing around our property … in other words, I adopted my dad’s method of fixing things by hiring people who know how to fix things. To avoid suspicion that I was motivated more by fear than finance, I even volunteered to take on tasks that involved non-powered tools, such as pounding t-posts into the ground. (I’d much rather risk smashing my thumb than, say, having to locate it somewhere in the front pasture.)
I probably would have gotten away with the subterfuge for years if I hadn’t gotten addicted to disc golf. Chareva reached the logical conclusion that if I had time to play 72 holes on weekends, I clearly wasn’t loaded down with extra programming work. She asked why on earth we’d pay someone else to clear the land when we had the time and the ability to do it ourselves. So I finally confessed to a deep-seated fear of setting out to cut down some bushes and ending up with a well-deserved nickname like “Stumpy.”
Being the smart cookie she is, she figured out how to push me past my fear of using power tools: she threatened to use them herself. Now I was facing a fear bigger than cutting off my own toes: having to explain to an emergency-room surgeon why my wife cut off her toes while I was in the kitchen cooking up a loaf of almond-butter bread.
“I see, Mr. Naughton. So the root cause of your wife’s tragic condition is that you’re a big chicken.”
“I concur with your diagnosis, Doctor.”
“Your wife will need reconstructive surgery, and for you, I’m prescribing several weekends working with a chainsaw. Real men aren’t afraid of power tools, Mr. Naughton.”
So this weekend, for the first time since I mowed lawns as a teenager, I fired up a tool with a gasoline-powered engine and enough cutting power to seriously hurt me.
It was awesome.
The week-whacker blade easily sliced through the thorn bushes, some with trunks as thick as my shins. This of course means the blade could just as easily slice through my shins, so I was happy to wear the protective chaps. I thought all the safety gear might be overkill, but I was soon proved wrong. Several times, flying bits of thorny branches ricocheted off the facemask. Several more ricocheted off the chaps. I know from painful experience that jeans are no match for those thorns, some of which are an inch long. A thorn-missile launched by a power tool could leave me with a punctured vein in my thigh or perhaps even a serious testosterone deficiency.
I hacked away at the briar jungle for about an hour and Saturday and another hour on Sunday. I ended both sessions when the week-whacker ran out of gas. That seems to be about the point where my hands are getting numb from the vibration, so it’s a good time to quit and start gathering up what I’ve cut.
In the picture below, you can see the progress I’ve made so far. Three days ago, the briar patch was growing all the way up to the trees you see in the foreground. I’m guessing I’ve cleared about a third of the entire briar jungle, at least on that side of the property.
Unfortunately, clearing the jungle means building up another one of these: a thorny burn pile with an insatiable appetite for poorly-thrown discs.
I’m not going to go through that again. I’m suspending my disc-golf play until I’ve cleared the jungle, then I’m going to cover the burn pile with a giant net, the same kind we used to cover our chicken-yard to keep the hawks away. We’ll let the pile dry out, then burn it up.
In the meantime, I’ll get over my fear of chainsaws and start cutting up that big pile of logs by the barn. If I don’t do it, Chareva will … at least that’s what she told me.