Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 6, 2009

By Robert Neill Columnist

Trees and snake victims of Brownspur chainsaw massacre

I’ve chainsawn, split with axes, hauled and stacked about a cord of wood on the Saturdays before and after Christmas, all by myownself. Most of that was done on Saturday the 20th, a couple of days before my birthday.  Saturday the 27th, I was mostly in a clean-up, finish-up mode, cutting up mainly some chinaberry logs that were semi-still-standing.

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I broke my back – four vertebrae, two of them crushed – a long time ago when I hydroplaned a pickup, so bending to cut logs is painful for me. In this case I had whacked off a chinaberry tree that was holding up a larger chinaberry that had been twisted off by the winds of either Katrina or Rita, three years ago.  I’d been waiting on it to fall, but Betsy got tired of waiting.

Naturally, when I cut far enough into the smaller tree, the larger one it was holding up forced it to break off, and they both crashed down. Fresh chinaberry burns well, and is a pleasure to split, yet after I finished with those two, two smaller pecans, and a couple of hackberries, I was whupped, at least until after my birthday!

So, I still had two chinaberry logs which were to some extent still attached to their stumps, one log sticking out about 12 feet at knee height, the second one sticking out about 15 feet at waist level. Those were my targets for the second Saturday, and I wasn’t even going to have to bend over atall!

I whacked up the smaller one first, then turned to the larger one, which had been blown over for three years. At the point where it had twisted and split, it had a hollow that extended up into the trunk, but not as far as where my first log cut was going to be. I was on my third waist-high cut when suddenly, to my horror, I saw blood and flesh appear on the saw!

Unless one is a producer of horror movies, blood on a running chainsaw is a very bad sign, especially when you, the chainsawyer, are the only one present on the scene. I instantly cut the saw off, over halfway through the tree.

Blood on a chainsaw also usually means pain somewhere, but I could feel no pain, which didn’t necessarily mean anything, at least initially. Lyme Disease left me with little sensation on the outside of my right thigh, and knee reconstruction left me with a dead area above my left knee, so I immediately assumed that’s where the painless blood and flesh had come from. I stepped gingerly back and looked down. Thankfully, there was no blood, or even a rip in my jeans, on either leg.

But my right hand was crushed years ago in a cotton gin lint cleaner, then had third degree burns on it two decades later, so it doesn’t have much feeling either. I eased my gloves off, thinking that if I left my severed fingers within them, maybe they’d be easier for the doctors to re-attach. But I still had eight fingers and two thumbs outside the gloves, and they all wiggled when I tried that, nor were any of them bleeding. I checked my feet – no blood, no cuts on my sneakers.

Now I looked more closely at the bloody mess on the chainsaw blade, to see that there were actually guts thereon! I jerked open my shirt – nope, not none-a me!  Finally, I grasped the chainsaw and worked it free from the log.

The hollow whereinto I had just sawn was the den of at least one snake!

I picked up the axe and whacked open the hollow, keeping my distance in case this was a poisonous snake – one can only imagine the danger involved in taking a chainsaw to a stumptail moccasin! Nary stumptail: this was obviously a chicken snake, which seemed to have been about four feet long, although it was in several parts by the time I got it out, and I didn’t try to reassemble it to measure. 

You can bet that I looked into that hollow before cranking my saw again. But you can also bet that I didn’t crank it until I had sat on the ground and begun to breathe normally again. Blood on your chainsaw: that’ll make your heart beat fast!