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How a Broken Chainsaw Saved Lives During the Pandemic

and, no, it wasn’t by fighting off zombies

by Bonni Knight

When the good folks of the Chippewa Valley realized that some sort of lockdown/shelter-in-place order was coming, everyone rushed out to prep for prolonged isolation. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and Handi Wipes became impossible to find. But out here, in the town of Seymour, just outside Eau Claire, we take a more pragmatic approach.

I describe where we live as “out a bit.” Many of our neighbors are suburbanites. We live just outside of St. Andrews Park, a posh subdivision with big houses, wooded lots, and private walking trails, upon which we never, ever trespass. (Wink, wink.)

But many who live nearby are what some would call “jack pine savages” – solid, practical self-reliant folks. Our immediate neighbors on Northwood Court (which I fondly refer to as Retirement Row, with Joe and I clocking in as the youngest residents at age 65) are more of a hybrid – what I’d call “civilized savages” – chopping their own firewood, planting large vegetable gardens, and fishing for supper whenever possible, yet still mowing their neatly manicured lawns.

While all y’all were collecting your apocalyptic “necessities” (like chocolate, wine, and, uh, wine) from Festival or Woodman’s, we made sure our chainsaws were in order. And for the past few weeks, the constant soundtrack to my quarantine has been the steady, unrelenting buzz of chainsaws coming from all directions. 

Therefore, when the time came to prep for the pandemic monster known as COVID-19, our nearest neighbors knew what’s what. So, apparently, did my husband, Joe. While all y’all were collecting your apocalyptic “necessities” (like chocolate, wine, and, uh, wine) from Festival or Woodman’s, we made sure our chainsaws were in order. And for the past few weeks, the constant soundtrack to my quarantine has been the steady, unrelenting buzz of chainsaws coming from all directions. All day, every day.

I should have known they’d be crucial for survival. Chainsaws feature heavily zombie apocalypse movies. Have you even seen The Evil Dead, for crying out loud? However, as one expert points out on the website zombie.fandom.com, “Though chainsaws are popular in zombie video games and movies, they shouldn’t be your first choice or any choice for that matter when choosing a weapon. In fact using one as a weapon is probably one of the worst ideas ever in a zombie infested world.”

Nevertheless, living out here amidst the jack pines, chainsaws are essential. After storms, fallen trees block roads and driveways or crush garages. We heat our house with firewood that we cut on our property (and by “we” I mean “Joe”). So you could say that chainsaws come in handy. And if things got really intense, I knew that with a chainsaw, you could build a log cabin if you had to. But recently our chainsaw literally saved lives.

It started when Joe got the chainsaw stuck in a tree and had to get help from a neighbor to get it unstuck. Somehow, the process required the use of a heavy chain, which we didn’t have, so as the neighbor guys gathered round to dispense woodsy wisdom, one hobbled off with his cane and headed into his garage to search for a chain for Joe. During his quest, our neighbor came across two long-lost cardboard boxes of unused plastic face shields, useful, in his case for welding, but in the midst of the pandemic, an urgent need in short supply for medical professionals. Joe called the county health department and left moments later to rush the precious shields downtown for distribution.

When he got home, Joe immediately, albeit accidentally, disabled the newly-unstuck chainsaw by pouring lubricating oil into the clearly marked "gas” hole (hehe!) instead of the clearly marked “oil” hole, so he had to take it in for repair. Thankfully, chainsaw repair is an “essential service” during a pandemic.

Life went on, on Northwood Court, but the magical life-saving powers of our chainsaw wouldn’t hit closer to home until a couple days later.

On Tuesday, I went to the store to mail some masks I’d sewn for distant nursing friends. I also stopped at Indianhead Foods and bought a ton of bulk foods. I came home, Joe and I unloaded all the stuff, and that was that.

On Thursday, the chainsaw guy called Joe to tell him his broken saw was ready to be picked up. Joe went out to the car and came back in and said, “Have you been missing the cat?” And yes, I had been. I hadn’t seen him for a while. He’s a wild thing, and really sees our house more as a feeding venue – a kitty café – than his actual home. But he usually hovers around. This time, though, the dang curious cat had been locked in the car for 48 hours!

Thank heavens the chainsaw had the good sense to break when Joe put oil in the wrong hole! Otherwise, it might’ve been two weeks, maybe more, before we opened the car again!

So the next time an apocalypse comes along, I’m gonna grease up and gas up the chainsaw. (And by “I,” I mean “I” because “I” know where the gas hole is). You can hoard toilet paper if you want, but how many zombies can you kill with TP?