Flicking through the book recently, I came across an excerpt ‘Conversations with my sister’, (Maddox, 2006: 98) that recounts a supposed conversation between a brother and sister about lumberjacks. The brother thinks that lumberjacks are the epitome of manliness, because they ‘chop down trees and they’re hairy. They wear plaid’ (ibid). The sister disagrees believing they are not manly, that they are stupid because ‘they cut down trees by using their muscle instead of their brains’ (ibid). To which the brother replies ‘ you can’t cut down trees with brains. You need an axe’ (ibid).
As well as making me laugh, this short excerpt made me think about some of my neighbours, who I believe share the same sentiment as the brother in this story. I live in a suburban housing estate in a relatively large Irish town. The estate is made up of semi-detached residences, which like my own house were built with gas central heating and have relatively small back gardens. My next-door neighbour uses a wood fire, and often spends time on the weekends using a chainsaw and axe chopping up trees that he fell someplace else. This is often a long and noisy process and when you are trying to work on a PhD thesis right next door, it can prove quite distracting!
Adding to this dilemma recently two more of my neighbours have joined ranks as urban lumberjacks. Now both of my next-door neighbours and my neighbour three doors down, all own chainsaws and have all taken up the past time of lumberjack-ing! In fact my neighbour three doors down recently called into me, as he had noticed (he must have binoculars!) that a dead tree had fallen down in my back yard. He very kindly and enthusiastically offered to ‘ring it’ for me, proudly boasting it would take ‘less than 20 minutes’. His eagerness to use his axe and chain saw left me a little bemused and slightly reminiscent of ‘Heeere’s Johnny!’
Despite my obvious worry about how I will find some piece and quiet at the weekends to complete my studies, it has also made me wonder about the sudden concentration of wanna-be urban lumberjacks in my estate. Firstly one might assume there are economic benefits to sawing down your own trees for firewood? However, given the readily available bags of pre-chopped wood which are usually less than €4.00 a bag, I can’t imagine given the time and labour involved in driving to wooded areas where you can legally fell trees, and then going through the process of ringing the tree, loading it into your car, returning home and then spending more time sawing and chopping the wood into burnable pieces; that you are actually saving money? I doubt it. In addition, my neighbours don’t appear to be struggling financially to warrant cost saving through this means. I believe they do it because they enjoy it and it appeals to their sense of masculinity. My wifey believes their lumberjack-ing is an attempt to escape the clutches of their wives and children; knowing these neighbours she could be right!
None-the-less being an urban lumberjack offers solution to those who have lost touch with nature or who have become detached from legitimate means of performing masculine tasks. City life and urban living does not provide sufficient opportunity for many men to engage in routine tasks / activities that affirm their masculinity. However, the guise of providing fuel for home heating provides these men with a legitimate means to perform an activity that reaffirms their masculine status. Felling trees and wielding a chain saw must be like concentrated injections of masculine affirmation to the urban male. I would never begrudge those men that enjoy doing something they obviously enjoy, however, the thought of having three mini-saw mills on my door step does not exactly excite me either! Worryingly according to Maddox (2006: 95) ‘deep down inside every guy, no matter how much of a pasty-thighed, white-collar desk slave he is, there’s a lumberjack waiting to burst out’.
I just hope there’s no more of them in my estate!
© Clay Darcy, January 2014
Reference: Maddox (2006) The Alphabet of Manliness, New York: Citadel Press.