This Side of the Pond – Jan. 3

By Sarah Pridgeon

Christmas may be over, but it’s surely never too late to share the tale of one’s first encounter with lumberjacking. If there’s ever an experience unlikely to be offered in London town, it is the chopping down of a tree.

This is not just because there are far too few inside city limits to go around (it’s an overcrowded place, so Sherwood Forest itself probably wouldn’t have enough to go around.) It is also because the authorities are wise in their desire to avoid 12 million irritable commuters trotting about with axes on their shoulders.

An excursion to choose and chop down my own Christmas tree was, therefore, a bit of a departure from my norm. As Dad-in-Law knows the Black Hills like the back of his hand, he knew the perfect route for tree-spotting without trespassing and bravely offered to take me into the forest, trussed up in appropriately large coat and comfy boots and with an axe on my shoulder.

Incidentally, I choose the largest coat I could lay hands on because, the last time I’d ventured into the woods, I’d attempted to do so in what can only be described as English Attire. Dad-in-law took one look at my flimsy jacket and thin pair of pants and disappeared to his shop, clucking in despair.

He returned clutching an oversized Onesie and insisting I put it on. While I can see the merit in an all-in-one designed for temperature drops, I will do absolutely anything to avoid wearing that thing ever again.

Mostly because it limits your movements while seated to a gentle rocking back and forth – no use at all if you’re trying to retrieve snacks from the vehicle floor. It’s also impossible to remove without help and a real pain to navigate if you happen to suffer a sudden itch to the knee.

More important to this story and to the general health of everything in the forest is the axe on my shoulder. Not the best place for an axe, really. Possibly the worst.

Nevertheless, off we drove, wiggling our way along the snow-covered trails, a permit to hack at the shrub of my choice clutched in my gloved hand. I peered through the window past the butt of the dog and pointed at trees while screeching, “That one!”

Some time later, I pointed at a tree that wasn’t lopsided, stunted, taller than the permit allowed, suitable only for Charlie Brown or of completely the wrong species. I was given the go ahead.

Never have you seen a more inept display of lumberjacking; I flung that axe about with all the innate skill of a seahorse. Moments into the effort I was huffing and puffing and wondering whether my arms would give out before the tree, possibly permanently.

Perhaps this was because axe-wielding is too alien a concept for me to bother with economy of movement, or perhaps I just need more training to turn my flails into actual chopping movements. Either way, it was a pathetic effort to subdue a very small tree and there were jagged marks most of the way up the trunk before I was done.

I’m not clear as to whether Dad-in-Law decided it was time to swap to the saw because it was, or because he took pity on (what was left of) the tree. It may, come to think of it, have been a preventative measure, as there can only have been seconds left before I ran out of puff, let go of the axe and accidentally launched it at somebody’s head.

Still, I am proud to say that, eventually, over it tipped: one little juniper, struck down in the prime of its life by my own fair hands and dragged to its fate across the snow. The first time I had been more proactive in my tree-hunting than to buy one, as most of my countrymen do, from a man at the side of the road.

I doubt that poor juniper spent its days in the sunshine dreaming of being attacked by an Englishwoman, but it will forever hold the honor of being the first successful victim of my axe. Having seen my technique, I suspect Dad-in-Law will insist it is also the last.