Season Thirty-one

My thirty-first Forest Service season started today, after being laid off during the month of April. There was the obligatory meeting, with setting of priorities by the boss. There are far fewer trail crew members this season, and our mission is to open trails. As soon as the snow melts, we are out there cutting the trees and logs that came down over the winter making the trails safe and passable for the eagerly recreating public.

I wandered out to the trails locker to renew my acquaintance with Pixie (yes there is a story behind this name, and no I’m not going to tell it at the moment). My crew has a tradition of naming saws, both the motorized ones and the muscle-powered ones. Over the years the names have been local ridges and lakes (Polallie, Spectacle, Waptus) or macho to confer the power needed to chew through firs and hemlocks (Dirk, Devil-saw). I named Pixie for one of my alter-egos, a whimsical woodsy character. For years, I had a hypothesis that guys would avoid pink girly stuff, so the best way to keep them from trashing my favorite tools and gear would be to feminize things. Would a real man strap on “orchid”-colored snowshoes, or grab a chainsaw with pink sparkly letters? The answer is Yes; the girly stuff doesn’t even slow them down. Or a chainsaw just can’t be made frilly enough. Anyway, my hypothesis has been thoroughly disproved.

Pixie is a lot like me–not the latest model but entirely adequate. Broken in but with lots of life left, especially with thoughtful maintenance. Pixie’s a Stihl MS360, a descendant of the classic 036 models I learned on in the 1990s. It (chainsaws are gender-neutral as far as I can tell) is not burdened with the goofy air filters they put on new-fangled saws, and you can still get to the spark plug without taking the whole housing apart. There is a certain clanking to an idling 360 that says “happy saw” to me. Pixie makes that clank.

Today I cleared space on the messy workbench, found my saw tools, and went to work. The conscientious sawyer knows her saw. Pixie got cleaned. I inspected the muffler and checked the spark arrester. Looked at the spark plug, checked the throttle for sticking, tested the chain brake. Cleaned and inspected the bar, and installed a brand new chain. Even used some citrus solvent to rub off the worst of the old pitch and gunk. Then it was time to start, run, and cut. Pixie fired right up. The chain and idle are adjusted just the way I like them. And the new chain is sharp enough to throw big chips. I will have to keep an eye on it, since it’s new, and be mindful of the tension as it heats up and breaks in.

I’ve never considered myself the least bit mechanical, but working on chainsaws has altered this idea a little bit. It’s a very basic machine (small engine whirls sharp chain around really fast, making it possible to saw through wood) and I am highly motivated to do my work efficiently. Nothing like packing a twenty pound saw up a steep hill only to find that it won’t start. Repairs are best handled on a workbench with plenty of tools available and a fire in the woodstove, rather than cursing while you kneel on the ground five miles from the truck in the rain.

Jon and I mixed fresh saw fuel today. Tomorrow we cut logs!

2 thoughts on “Season Thirty-one

  1. Nice post! I do believe you’re at least a wee bit happy to be back at work. Them logs better watch out!

    1. Actually, fixing Pixie was the high point. I had to stop and take a break to weep in frustration about the bullshit and slobby colleagues. Oh, The Futility! Came home and filed crosscut rakers for awhile. The vise is working splendidly. And my watercolors are going well. d2

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