In the early 60s, chainsaws were gigantic, heavy, dangerous things. People were still arguing about using handsaws and axes out in the woods. There were certainly plenty examples of horses and oxen still working in the woods.

My much older cousin Bob cut off his thumb with one of those unwieldy beasts. There may have been contributing factors, but the massive weight of the saw didn’t help.

One major factor in their weight was that every part, except the pull rope and handle, was made of metal. Twenty years later, lighter, more efficient engines, aluminum and plastics were being incorporated in chainsaw manufacturing.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that those machines make a lot of noise.

Here 60 years ago, much of the land was still clear and in fields. People were cutting hay, and using horses to do it.

Today, much of that land is approaching the condition of being mature forest. A different set of hardwoods, certainly, because the elm and the chestnut are no more, and many other trees are beginning to succumb to invasive insects and diseases.

I have one friend who says there are more and better ways to weaken an enemy besides direct warfare. He works in the woods and sees the decline — now, including the ash, the beech, and even the hard maple.

I see it, too.

Certainly, the emerald ash borer has become a common sight. A few visit me every year, appearing on my car hood, or a large chunk of wood. They are beautiful insects, but not useful as far as I can tell.

I do think some of the problem with forest decline is the increase in paved roads and the use of salt to keep them clear.

I often find nice maples dying in drainages leading from roads. Many of those trees find their way to my wood pile.

All that aside. The land around here is being logged.

During the day, I often here the chain saws screaming and the skidder tractors roaring. Even sometimes before dawn, I hear the whine of a giant bucksaw preparing wood for trucking.

It can seem like a regular factory around here. Which, in fact, it is.

I’m not sure why, but generally the logging around us is done by father-and-son operations that are still using chain saws primarily for cutting. We have seen only a few operations nearby that incorporate the more modern feller buncher, a tractor with an implement that grasps the tree in its giant claws and cuts before bringing the tree down.

I imagine 20 years from now, the chain saw, like the ax and handsaw, will be kept in the service truck’s tool box for occasional use.

Who knows if those giant machines will be quieter? I seriously doubt it.

Since the advent of those first unwieldy monster chain saws, the woods have become progressively noisier, and more industrialized. Never again the steady “chop, chop, chop” of the woodman’s ax.

I imagine in an attempt to finance these new logging machines, we will see a decline in the smaller generational operations. I guess the jobs will go to larger business that can work their way through the financial system.

We have already seen an example of this evolution in the dairy industry and farming in general.

One thing I’m pretty sure of, though, these woods will be noisy for a long time to come.

Forrest Hartley lives in Hadley. You can leave him a message at new_americangothic@yahoo.com.


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