"No," I answer. "Not this week, but the next."
"Yeah," he says. "That's what I mean. Good. We're almost out of wood, and I talked to Ernie."
A week later, in the morning, we cut wood. Our cousin Ernie owns a ranch with oak trees fallen from the rain. He told us where to find two good trunks and said we could have them.
Ernie's ranch is a couple of miles away down a twisty road. When we pull up to the gates I jump out of the pickup and hand-wrestle lengths of wire wrapped around pipe and small hunks of wood blackened by weather. There are three gates to get back to where the oaks are, and at one gate I have to yell back to Dad, "How the hell does this work?"
"You have to pull that lever up. Move that wire." After studying the device for a few more seconds it comes to me, and the gate made of wood that's been bundled with wire pops away from its stanchion, and I drag it back far enough for the truck to get through.
After each gate my dad yells out the driver's-side window, "Don't let the horses through." A dozen horses zigzag their way down the hills with their heads held high and their white tails swishing. Steam emanates from their long black snouts, and their manes of coarse, wiry hair blow back in the wind. Some of them get very close, and I have to stamp my boot on a rock and clap my hands to keep them from rushing out.
When we're through all the gates, I grab the tailgate and steady my boots on the bumper. Dad shifts to four-wheel drive, drops the clutch, and when the wheels spin in the dirt a little he yells back, "Hold on." The truck carries us, him behind the wheel, me on the bumper, up and over two small hills. The tires spin here and there until they catch a rock to inch us up the steep inclines. Over the crest of the second hill the truck's roof and hood drop down, and I can see over them and into the valley, and I spot two fallen oaks where a torrent of rainwater undercut their roots and washed them down.
The truck is navigated to a level spot on a landing just below the nearest tree. "The tires spun a little, but we'll get out," my dad assures me. "With the wood in the back, the weight of the truck will be different, and it'll grab a little better."
With a clang I drop the tailgate so my dad can have an open bench to work on. He moves his chainsaw and little maintenance box back from where they were tied up next to the cab and makes a work area of the tailgate. He fumbles through the little box filled with rat-tail rasps, two-stroke oil, and wrenches. The box used to be a crisper on an old refrigerator, and beneath the grime of oily handprints it still bears a chrome sunburst logo.
My dad finds his file. I take my seat on a nearby stump, pull my work gloves out of my pocket, and push my chin and cheeks under the top button of my flannel shirt. I look through the steam rising up out of the collar across the bridge of my nose and slip my hands into my holey leather gloves. I pop pop clap my hands together to get some blood to them and jam them in my shirt pockets. I get as comfortable as I can with my butt on a round of frosty wood and I wait. Dad takes his file and runs it down each tooth of the chain until they all have a gleaming steel knife-edge.
Turning the saw on its side, he holds it up near his shoulders and then lets it drop to his waist, and his right hand rips out to the side with the start pull-cord encased in the fist. Bwanganaang! The saw sputters a few times and dies. The old man fiddles with the choke, mutters something to himself, and repeats the step. Bwangangangang! The saw starts up and spews white smoke out the sidepipe. The air fills with the smell of gasoline and oil mixture burnt and shot out of an engine that has sat for months. Every winter bird left in the valley shoots from its perch and takes flight. I see how loud the saw is by how far away the birds take off. Along a far ridge over two hills I can see quail dart out from a bush.
"Not bad!" he yells over the racket. "I took a restrictor out, and now it either runs full throttle or not at all." To illustrate the point he lets off the gas a little and it dies, leaving the surrounding hills silent. "See?"
Seated on my stump I watch him mentally divide the trunk up into usable sections and count how many logs we'll get. "With both trees, looks like we'll get a pickup load. That's good for a month or so."
With that he drop-pull-starts the saw again and starts ripping through the small branches to get to the trunk. I wait until he's got a few branches hacked off before I uncover my nose from my flannel and get up. At the tree I grab the ends of separated branches and drag them a ways off to the side and start a pile. The tree isn't brushy, so there's little of that.
After it's been limbed and I've hauled the brush, Dad starts in on cutting the main wood from the tree. The ripping, screaming saw engine bogs further and further as the chain delves through the trunk and a log lops off the end. A 16-inch length of 16-inch-diameter green oak will fall from its hold, dig past the hard outer shell of soil, and sink into the mud below. My job on these wood-cutting trips is to roll the log up into my arms, carry it to the truck, and throw it in the bed. When the logs hit the dirt with a soft thud, my dad will give them to me. He holds the saw up by both hands at chest level and knocks his boot against the log, dislodging it from its cradle of earth so that it rolls easily up my filthy shirtsleeves. I walk it a few yards until I heave it from my chest like a basketball, and it rocks the pickup bed -- Bawoom! When it's in, I turn back for the next one.