Thursday, January 22, 2009

How to Fell a Tree Without Hitting the House

Step 1
Find Yourself an Ol’ Codger Who’s Done it a Hundred Times.

In this case, he’s easy to find. Look no further than my dad. A year and a half shy of 80 years old and he can still work circles around me.

I work with old people every day—so I know old. This guy's in better health than most people half his age. He could’ve been a card-carrying member of AARP for the last 28 years—but he doesn’t need ‘em.

Never even swung a golf club.

Gets up every day at 6 AM. Pulls on his overalls, laces up his boots, walks outside and tackles any job he has a mind to.

A dying breed.


Master of all.

I’m not kidding.

This guy can do anything if it’s even remotely related to plumbing, electrical work, concrete work, welding, design, engineering, woodwork, heating, auto mechanics, roofing, finish work, farming, etc.

He’s an artist with a shovel.

Need a custom part made from steel? He’ll fire up his blacksmithing tools and pound you out a piece on the anvil.

And he’s no hayseed either.

Yeah, he was a typical Utah farm boy—until he left home and went to school…. Then he turned himself into a scholar with bachelor's and master's work at BYU, Ph.D. work at Columbia University, and a Fulbright scholarship to study northern European economies.

Step 2
Fire Up a 91 Year-Old Tractor.

That’s right. 91 years old. As in built in 1918.

Really—who has a 91 year-old tractor out in the shed that they crank up on a regular basis and use for real work?


The thing’s beyond antique—it’s ancient!

My kids asked me what color it used to be. I didn’t know how to answer them. I’m sure it was a nifty color once-upon-a-time, but now it’s just rust and grease.

My grampa bought the tractor "used" in 1925. Farmed hundreds of acres around his home. Dad learned how to drive it when he was six. At the time he could barely push in the clutch.

Unlike most tractors at the time, this one uses tracks instead of wheels.

Last Saturday Dad calls me up and says, “I’m taking down a tree with the old tractor. Do you and your kids want to watch?”

Well, I’ve seen this routine plenty of times…but my kids haven’t, so I say, “Sure, we’ll be over in a few minutes.”

We arrive a while later and he laughs at my oldest son, Jason, because Jason’s wearing shorts. It’s about 20 degrees in the shade.

Dad's holding a bucket of warm water. As he pours it into the tractor’s radiator he explains that it has to be warm—because the tractor’s massive block is so cold that cold water would instantly freeze.

I’m thinking: Huh. Smart.

1918 was a while before electric starters, so this ol’ Cletrac needs to be cranked. I watch my dad with his left hand on the choke and his right hand turning the crank. It occurs to me that the tractor looks like an extension of himself—he’s done this so many times that the tractor and he are one. He casually turns the crank and I’m thinking: you better give it a little more elbow grease or it will never start.

Click on the play button to see and hear it.

But he knows his tractor.

And after a few nonchalant—almost effortless—cranks…it fires right up.

Back in the day when this thing was built they didn’t bother with mufflers—so the fire shoots straight out of the manifold. And there’s no doubt if it’s running or not—it’s loud.

Step 3
Drive Through the Snow, Hook a Long Chain Between Tractor and Tree, and Put Tension on the Chain.

Click on the play button to see and hear it.

I wondered about the wisdom of driving the old beast through the pasture and orchard—all the while grinding through a foot of snow. Would it get stuck? Would this turn into an oh-shoot-the-thing’s-stuck-now sort of a day?

But again, no worries.

The Cletrac busted through the snow like it was the ancestor of modern-day snowcats.

Which, come to think of it, it is.

Step 4
Make Son Nervous By Nearly Cutting All the Way Through Tree.

So what do you do when the ol’ codger (who's done this a hundred times) is wearing earmuffs, focusing intently on where he’s cutting...and can’t see the tree start to sway above him?

Suddenly his son (me) starts imagining all sorts of scenarios:

1) The tree does a slow pirouette and comes crashing down on Ol’ Codger—all while his son and grandchildren look on in horrified silence.

2) Ol’ Codger’s quick and valiant son (me) jumps forward at the last second and tackles Ol’ Codger to the ground while the tree narrowly misses them both. After an enormous sigh of relief, they both look down to see the chainsaw imbedded in Ol’ Codger’s leg.

3) Ol’ Codger’s son (me) sees the danger, shouts at Ol’ Codger (who can’t hear him), then strides quickly forward and grabs Ol’ Codger’s arm to alert him. Ol’ Codger is startled, nearly drops the chainsaw, is decidedly unhappy with his jumpy son, and lets loose with a string of cusswords.

None of those scenarios seemed particularly pleasant, so I just crossed my fingers and reminded myself that he’s done this a hundred times.

Step 5
Drop the Cletrac into Forward Gear, Let Out the Clutch, and Pull the Tree Down in Precisely the Direction You Want it to Fall.

Click on the play button to see and hear it.

Slick as a whistle.

Step 6
Give Rides to All the Grandkids.

And let the seventeen year-old in shorts drive the thing himself.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

White Family Dictionary

burger \BĔR-gĕr\ noun.
1: booger.
Word Origin: When a father wishes to call his child a booger but is afraid that the neighbors may not approve, he uses the euphemism, burger, instead.
Unintended but Inevitable Word Usage:
Ryan: “Dad, can you get this burger out of my nose?”

but-but (BŬT- BŬT) noun.
1: butter.
Word Origin: A classic Derek word-morph. Used extensively and with gusto by Emily, who knows that it’s okay to say but-but, but it’s not okay (in our family) to say butt.

Chopper \CHŎP-r\ proper noun.
1: Nickname applied randomly by Derek to any one of our children at any given time.
See also Chops, Monkey, Monkey Chunk, Boot Monkey, Turkey, Turklet, Potlicker, Bucketmeiser, Crazy, Lippy-Lou-Lou and Boutros Boutros Ghali.

cim-cim \SĬM- SĬM) noun.
1: cinnamon roll.
Word Usage: “Holy cow! Mom just made a batch of cim-cims and she’s not giving them away to the neighbors! They’re for us!”
Word Origin: Word coined by childhood friend, Craig Dalley, who, during High School was always joking about being on a diet. Derek and his friends teased him mercilessly about giving up his cinnamon roll at lunchtime—ostensibly for the sake of his health—but more accurately to acquire and eat his cim-cim.

Dog-Head \DŎG-hĕd\ proper noun.
1: Nickname for Annie, our Boston Terrier.
See also Doggie, Dogtard, and Snoot.

edam \ĔD-ŏm\ noun.
1: Our favorite cheese.
Pronunciation: Finnish.

fresca \FRĔS-kah\ noun.
1: Any soda if you’re Ryan or Tanner.

Girlfriend \GĔRL-frĕnd\ proper noun.
1: Derek’s nickname for Lori.
See also Chick, Chicklet, and Girl.

hat chak \HĂT CHĂK\ noun.
1: hot chocolate.
Word Origin: shortening of the word hot chocolate with Fran Drescher-like pronunciation.

hustle \HŬSL\ verb.
1: Intended by parents to mean I want to see you move faster than I’ve ever seen a human being move before, but interpreted by children as go ahead and take the next few millennia and throw in several epochs—in fact, mountains shall rise and be laid low—whole seas shall form and dry up again—the stars will fall from the heavens and new suns shall appear…all before you need to complete that little task.

iwillkillyouandmakeyoudead \ī-wīl-KĪL-yū-ānd-māk-yū-DĔD\ statement.
1: Statement directed at our children to make them laugh.
Statement Usage: Said with a goofy voice while chasing them through the house.

Jazz \JĂZ\ proper noun.
1: Nickname for Jason.
Word Origin: Ideal example of Derek’s penchant for deliberately mangling people’s names through multiple evolutions. What began as simply Jason, was soon pronounced Jăhs-SŌN (with a quazi-French accent), then (due to the opening of Disney's Aladdin) it morphed for a short time into Jasmine before Jason was old enough to know that Jasmine was a girl’s name—then (to Lori's relief) it evolved into the much more manly Jazz—which is appropriate because he's a jazz drummer. And he's manly.
See also Jazzy, Jazzarooni, and Jazzman.

Please don’t tell him about the girl-name thing.

microwave popcorn \MĪK-rah-wāv PŎP-kōrn\ noun.
1: Food item we have totally banned from our house after multiple scorchings and subsequent openings of every door and window in an effort to remove the smell.
Word Usage:
Julie Porter: “Our microwave has a pre-programmed microwave popcorn button so that doesn’t happen.”
Derek: “So does ours, but nobody is smart enough to use it.”

nerdgirl \NĬRD-gĭrl\ noun.
1: Term of endearment for daughters and any other cool, non-nerdy girl.
Word Caution: Not to be applied to actual nerd girls.

nab \NĂB\ verb.
1: A lighthearted command to purchase or acquire something immediately with no further complicating discussion.
Word Usage:
Lori: “Wow, that’s a good price on a pancake griddle.”
Derek: “Nab.”

ornch (ŌRNCH) noun.
1: orange juice.
Word Origin: A classic shortening of a word—from orange juice to orange to ornch. Pronounced with glee after pouring a nice, cold glass.
Word Usage:
Natalie: “Hey Dad, look! ORNCH!”
Derek : “Awesome! Will you pour me a glass?!”

sammy \SĂ-mē\ noun.
1: sandwich.
Word Usage: “Hey Mom, will you make me a PB&J sammy?”
Word Origin: unknown.

I’ve heard that Quizno’s now sells “sammys”.

They stole that word from us.

skinny lips \SKĬN-ē LĬPS\ verb, noun.
1: To make skinny one’s lips while flaring one’s nostrils.
Word Origin: While Derek was dating Lori he would tease her by attempting to kiss her with skinny lips—whereupon she would promptly reject his advances. Nowadays this facial expression is performed often and with zeal by all of the children in order to annoy her.

shmampin \SHMĂMP-ĭn\ gerund.
1: camping.
Word Origin: Lori’s contribution to what a brain can come up with when put into random mode.

Sweetie \SWĒ-tē\ proper noun.
1: Term of endearment used by Lori only when she’s mad at Derek.
Word Usage: “SWEETIE, get OFF that computer and help me with the KIDS!”
See also, idiot.

Tepanyummy \TĔP-ahn-yŭm-ē\ proper noun.
1: Nickname for one of our family’s favorite restaurants, Tepanyaki.
Word Usage: “It’s not TepanYAKI, it’s TepanYUMMY!”

toast \TŌST\ noun.
1: Food item thought by Lori to have full and complete nutritional value when consumed daily with a cup of hot chocolate.

whodidthis \hū-DĬD-THĬS\ question.
1: Question asked multiple times daily by Lori and I—and always answered by the kids with “Not me.”

Yelly \YĔL-ē\ proper noun. 1: Our favorite camping destination, Yellowstone National Park.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Snowy Night: Photos taken at 11:00 PM

Years ago, as a kid, on nights like this I would dress myself from head to toe in all my warmest clothes—thermal underwear, snow-pants, puffy coat, scarf, gloves, and hat—and I’d wander out into our yard amazed by the silence.

The low clouds, gently falling snow, and the powdery fluff underfoot muffled all the usual noises.

And it was oddly warm, with no breeze stirring the air.

I would lie out on the snow and burrow myself in—sweeping snow on top of me—and I’d just listen to the stillness.

I haven’t had that feeling in years…until tonight when I turned off all the lights in the house and was surprised at the wintry glow that came from outside.

All the conditions were the same as…(thirty?) years ago when I lay in the snow—surrounded by silence—thinking my own thoughts.

Some of those memories were here in Utah and some were in New Hampshire.

I suppose that’s why, years ago, when I ran across this poem by New Hampshire’s own Robert Frost…I understood what he was saying.

You could say it struck a chord.

And although we’re a long way from New Hampshire—and there’s more sagebrush here than woods—there was something out there tonight that was the same.

Something good.

Something peaceful.

So with a nod to Frost, here's his poem:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost, 1923