Throwback Thursday: Defending Our Planet Everywhere

Read part one of this story here

What is it like to hold a live chainsaw? A living breathing, barred chainsaw. If you’ve never had the experience, it can be daunting if not downright scary. It’s a killing machine, a concoction that could only have been invented by the Grim Reaper himself, a machine-head sporting a long chained nose, clanking maniacally, looking as alien as anything you’ll ever see, rendering death so complete you cringe every time you pick it up and pull the rip cord. If you listen closely enough, over the roar of the chainsaw itself, you can almost hear the trees scream as the serrated chain rips into the bark, then tears deep into the flesh of the wood, spitting chips out onto the forest floor. Vast woodlands have been laid to waste because of its efficiency and speed.

So, as an environmentalist, I have conflicting feelings when using one of these things. But like anything else in life you can turn the beast away from its original intention and use it, not to slaughter trees but to bring down the giant, eyesores that populate the roadsides of this country. Don’t cut down the trees. Cut down the billboards. Make the billboards scream. DOPE. Defending Our Planet Everywhere.

Well on Our Way

We’re well on our way, time dipping into midnight. The five of us assembled underneath the bloated billboard on I-25 on the way to Colorado Springs. The plan: to bring the monster to its knees with our ghoulish machines. Fight fire with fire. Tonight.

The task is daunting, but we are up for it. The rain keeps driving downward, along with a howling wind whipping our faces red and raw. Like a giant pressure washer churning water into our skins. It reminds me of the time when we brought down a Nixon billboard on the Boulder Turnpike in a blizzard and had to sleep the night in an abandoned Army troop-transport truck on the side of the road.

Stoned is the only way we’ll get through this. We huddle like football players in a circle and pull our hoods up over us, creating a temporary dry area. We light up and pass around a joint. A few minutes later, we separate and Haggis and I rip the cords on our chainsaws. They shriek to life, sputtering at first, then roaring in our ears, though muffled by the torrential storm swirling around us. I feel like I’m standing inside a grainy black and white TV screen. I’m in the stands at the Indianapolis 500 and the announcer tells the drivers to start their engines. We are well on our way.

A Life of Its Own

The first time you pick up a chainsaw, terror wraps itself around your neck like a snake trying to suffocate you. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” comes to mind. The saw is heavy and it stinks of gas and oil, death and hurt. You haven’t dared start it yet. You breathe deep and try to will your fear away. You light a joint to curb your apprehension. Breathe deep and let it out. You are now in control. One way to start it is to place the killer on the ground. You put one foot on top of the housing, grab the cord handle and pull upward. It comes to life, flops nervously as you heft it up, jerking your arm. You have to steady it and hold on.

There is another way to bring a chainsaw to life. You grab the handle, pick it up with one hand, blade pointed downward, the head level with your hip. With the other hand you grab the rip cord and give it a good yank, once, twice three times. As you go through this motion, the blade swings back and forth. It finally sparks alive, vibrating, spitting, burbling, purring — but not tame. You give it some gas — it bellows like Grendel’s motherin a rage. It becomes a wild animal with the teeth of a full-grown tiger ready to tear into your leg.

Do or Die

The stepladders are set up. I climb up the first one, holding the vibrating Stihl 22-inch barred chainsaw away from my body. Right now as I’m perched precariously on the next-to-last rung, my Stihl sends vibrations shooting like electrical charges into my body, until I began to feel numb. That’s what happens; It tries to shake your guts out. First your fingers die, then your arms, until you can hardly hold the thing. But you keep going, hoping like hell, you don’t lose it and send the chain ripping into your flesh.

The aluminum ladder is slick. My boots give me a good grip. Still, I have to be careful. Thank god there is no lightning or thunder — not yet, anyway. Sven stands at the bottom and holds the ladder to keep it from toppling over. Haggis is on top of the other, making his first cut. Roger is holding that one steady, while the others stand nearby, spotting for us. When Haggis and I get tired they’ll take our places. Already, I’m spent, and I haven’t even made a cut. It is do or die.

The Kick of Adrenalin

The kickback of the chainsaw, as I push the whirring chain into the wood, wants to thrust me off the ladder into space, but I dig my knees into the rungs and hold on, my adrenalin spiking. I can’t imagine what it was like for the lumberjacks back before there were chainsaws. They climbed with their spiked boots up the towering old growth firs back in the early twentieth century and topped them with handsaws and axes, 300 ft off the ground, the tree’s bushy head falling to the forest floor in a dust-bombed heap. I wince as I dig the blade deeper, creosote chips falling around me like blackflies. The Stihl roars, gobbling up real estate.

Then I hear a creak. I pull back, the post comes undone and hangs in front of me, swinging, still connected to the massive billboard above me. The ladder is ready to go as well, but the others hold it and I climb down to the ground. Haggis has already cut through three posts and is on his fourth. He’s on a tear and doesn’t let anyone interfere and give him a rest.

I look out into the night rain. There is no one out here, the interstate is empty, not a headlight to be seen, not the rumble of trucks, just the dull roll of the rain and the chainsaws howling like a hellbound choir singing with marbles in their mouths – above that boom and crash.

The Last Post

I’m a black-eyed pea of a mess, splattered with creosote and wood chips when I come down, after taking down four more posts. Sven takes over for me, refilling the saw and climbing the ladder to take my place. I sit down, my arms and mind still vibrating. Like stepping off a ship and trying to get your land legs under you. The rain doesn’t abate, and keeps spigoting as if to give us much needed cover. We work all night, slicing into the posts and struts. And then comes the time. 4 AM. Haggis has cut through the last post out of thirty in all.

The superstructure starts to moan, creak and wobble back and forth. We break into a run and vacate the premises, then stop and turn to watch. Waiting in the drown of rain. And now lightning, thunder. The billboard sways in the wind. As the lightning cracks, illuminating it with flickering light I see for the first time what it is that it is hawking.

When the Music’s Over

The Doors: A promotion for an upcoming concert.” Break On Through To The Other Side.” What have I done? I love the Doors.

It sways again, back and forth, creaking, screaming, holding on. We hold our collective breaths. I cross my fingers. It satill doesn’t come down. We take steps toward it. I grab my chainsaw ready to make another cut — got to put Jim out of his misery. Then a crack like thunder. The beast is breaking, coming down in a million pieces every which way, each segment twisting away on its own, crashing to the ground, sending a splattering storm of mud up into our faces. The Doors lie in a heap at out feet. The music’s over.

So, that’s how you take down a billboard, Doors or no Doors. Piece by piece. That’s how you lay it to ground, put it to bed, make some rubble with the rumble. That’s how you begin to save the environment — you have to start somewhere, and billboards are as good a place as any. That’s how you bring down your masters. That’s how you use a chainsaw.

So, grab one and give it a go. Or take a welding torch, an axe, whatever suits you. Start somewhere. Make the billboards scream.

 

 

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