A Tangle of Trouble
by Sandy Cohen







Did I ever tell you about the time when I was walking from one side of Swains Cove, where I live, to the other, which meant a long hike through an ancient and ignored woods, to visit my friend Pentry, who owned a gracious property facing me across half-a-mile of still tides, simmered by the hot summer sun reflecting upon its ripples?

This is a question that I shouldn't even ask, since now that I am thinking about it with some eagerness, I'm just going to tell you anyway.  Remembering this experience amazes me whenever I recall how hot it felt as I was walking on the dry dirt and soggy puddles that lay shaded in shadows of cedars and birches and of course, pines.  Part of the association I have with this adventure is the olfactory attachment of lovely fragrances from the balsams, which in the heat of summer in coastal Maine, is almost delicious, and in a way, flashes with evocative memories.

That was about 5 years ago.  I had put a picnic table on our dock floating in the cove.  Well, so there I was walking through the woods, skirting the head of the cove.  From the looks of the thick undergrowth, random distribution of fallen and rotting trunks,  and hardly-ever visited by anything but deer, eagles, hares and porcupines, and the occasional hunter seeking one of them.  Our caretaker, Clyde, told of bears out there in the head of the cove.  Well, after around twenty minutes of climbing over or under downed trees, or detouring around a boggy stream, I began to hear, distinctly but weakly, a high frequency dissonant noise, like a model airplane engine.  As I walked, waving my arm in front of me to sweep away spider webs, the noise I perceived grew louder.  I could now tell that the motor was racing and also, the motor was bigger than any model aircraft this side of the Air Force.  One thing was especially interesting to me, and that was that the motor apparently had no loads on it, because it was operating at the exact same speed without the merest variation.

No, what I noticed was the constancy of pitch.  After a while, I became curious why the motor was running so fast, and continuously.  This was very unusual.  I decided to investigate.  I made a way through the pathless woods, through fallen limbs and dying branches toward the source.  I had a strong sense of direction because the sound was clear enough that the location of its emanations was unmistakable.  It was also more impactful, more insistent, the closer I got.

When I crossed the thick trunk of a maple, struck down by wind or lightning in some past storm, I came upon a clearing at the edge of Pentry's land.  A pile of tree parts, some as thick as a telephone pole, structured randomly into a twenty foot pyramid.  I could hear that the engine was near, and I saw a plume the oily exhaust of a two-stroke engine rising from the other side.  I went around.  There I saw a chain saw running at full speed all by itself, perched on a little ledge formed by one of the constituent boughs.  As it raced, idle, it was vibrating and wobbling and likely to fall off the tiny perch and fall, cutting wildly deeper into the tangle.


But, what made this seen terrifying was that I recognized the face of our current caretaker, Robb Snowman, desperately clutching twigs woven into the pile, stepping on a fairly substantial protruding branch and a much less substantial one on the other side, suspended an arm's length above the whirring skip-tooth blades of the reckless chain saw.

"HELP !" he shouted when he saw me.

"Don't touch anything.  I'll fall on the damn thing.  Don't touch a thing, do you hear me."  He had to shout to be heard over the engine's earsplitting noise, and he contorted his head to face me.  This movement, slight as it seems, unbalanced the twigs and caused him to tip to his left, which luckily was a bit farther from the knife-tipped chain, but unfortunately, demonstrated the fragility of his current placement.  He had no control of his fearful position, since his very life depended on the unstable complex of so much brushwood and dried shrubbery.  
His face was fierce with concentration and focus on the urgent danger.

"Yes ! Yes!" I shouted back.  "What do you want me to do?"

"I don't know what the f**k to do.  But, don't touch a thing.  I fell off the ladder with my chain saw half an hour, seems like, and been here like this since.  I don't know what the hell to do.  Thinking of nothing else, too, since the saw ripped its way to there.  I'm scared.  Don't touch a thing.  Please don't kill me."

I assured him that I would not move.  I stood there examining the predicament.  Here is Robb Snowman, my age, hanging over a live chain saw.  He is trying to maintain his balance to prevent any movement of the pieces in this tangle.  All the while, the bouncing two-stroke at high revs cycled its lethal chain.  

What if I try to push the saw over with a long stick," I yelled.

"No ! No ! you asshole.  If the saw moves its gonna dance all over the place; and I'll be killed.  Don't do anything !"

"Is there a safety, or way to slow the engine, or is there a kill-switch?"

"I broke it off, so I could tighten the throttle at fast.  

"I will have to wait out the engine until it runs out of gas.  I think it had half a tank when I set out,"  he yelled.

Meantime the engine is racing, and wobbling, and I was realizing that there was nothing I could do to help him, and save his life.  What if I went for help.  Surely some woodsman, like Danny, would know what to do.  Just as I started my announcement that I would go for help, a red squirrel scurried on the branch supporting Robb's left arm, and the tangle shifted.  Suddenly, his left foot dropped down, hanging very close to the saw's guide bar.  

Instinctually, Robb kicked at the chain saw.  This immediately resulted in the juddering device tumbling off its little edge and falling, blade first, cutting a spontaneous and dangerously unpredictable path down, and away from Robb.  He still could not extricate or loosen his purchase on the sticks and branches he clung to for fear of falling into the blades himself.  The smoking chain saw settled on a long-dead, desiccated leafy branch, less than a foot from the ground.  It appeared that maybe this would be good for Robb because it was now a distance from him that might be considered safe.  

Unfortunately, however, a new and more immediate danger arose.

One of the leaves, a large one, a particularly dry and flammable one, was absorbing the gasoline and oil mixture now dripping from the gas tank, which ignited into a flash of flame when it touched the extremely hot exhaust manifold.

Robb had no choice.  He reflexively and forcefully rolled himself away from the fire.  This was also a fortunate movement, since it now allowed him to swing his torso over a rigid weave of stouter limbs.  From there he could get out of the pile.

Grasping his arm, he stood beside me silently watching as the vegetation caught fire burned intensely.  The high-pitched whine of the chain saw was still shrill, hardly masked by the increasing roar of combustion. 

"Are you OK?," I asked, looking at him by the intense light of the burning.

"My arm is burnt.  Here, look at my sleeve."  It was singed and still smoking so he took off his shirt and balled it up to pad out the hurt of his arm.

"I'm better than OK.  I'm alive.  I didn't think I'd be."

"Can you make it over to Pentry's, or I could run down and get him to help ?"

We walked together the quarter mile to Pentry's house, where Pentry provided us drink of whisky and used his first class first aid box to treat Robb's burns.  Seated on his deck, we could monitor the fire while Pentry called his friend Morehouse, the Captain of the volunteer fire department.

"Tell me all about it," asked Pentry.

"Well one thing I can tell," said Robb, "is that I lost a damn good chain saw in that fire." 

The End.