Of Brushcutters and Biceps

Except for a couple of rainy days or Shabbos, this past two weeks I’ve gone kayaking every day.  I’m trying to make the most out of September, because in Maine it’s the nicest month of the year.  True, the fall colors aren’t yet putting on their show.  Even so, the daytime weather is warm like August, but the nights are cold and crisp.  The skies are brilliant blue; the sun is lower but shines cheerfully.  Blackflies, deerflies, mosquitoes and midges have all died out until next Spring, which means conditions are perfect for outdoor activities:  hiking, boating, fishing, gardening.  It’s summer’s last hurrah, without the tourists or “summer people”  who have seasonal camps (cabins and cottages).  This is “real” Maine.

While my arms aren’t any less flabby, I don’t think I am imagining it:  my arms feel stronger.  I also walk 2 – 4 miles daily, and I try to bicycle up and down a few hills for 30 minutes each day, too.  My blood pressure is lower, and deep breaths no longer hurt.  I am still fat, but I feel pretty good!

My husband has been out of town for the past 2 weeks, working at his company’s Massachusetts office, so I’ve had plenty of time to do stuff – – or nothing.  I decided to surprise him and do the brushcutting on our property, as the woods are constantly encroaching onto the driveway and into the orchard.

A few weeks ago we bought a Stihl brushcutter.  This is not some little string grass trimmer you buy at Sears or Home Depot.  This is the machine that pros use.  It oozes power, it weighs about 15 lbs, and it has a nasty looking carbon blade that can make quick work of bushes, brambles, and saplings.  It’s a gawky thing, not at all evenly  weighted, so to avoid being a back-killer it comes with bicycle handles and a shoulder strap to help redistribute its weight.  There are several steps to getting it started – – I suppose a man would call them a starter, a choke, etc, but to me it’s “thingamajiggy” and “whatchamacallit.”  You also have to mix a small vial of oil into one gallon of gas for it to operate properly.  In other words, my Stihl brushcutter is the Real Deal.  It’s not for wimps. But people in Maine are rugged.  I am a Maine Woman, after all.

The nice man at the store must have explained how to work the Stihl brushcutter  three times, but I’m not good at sequencing, so I just nodded my head and looked confident.  I’m sure he saw right through my act.  He told me that that I could come back anytime if I had any questions.  I’m sure he thought he’d never see the end of me.

But my strategy was different.  “I’ll just let my husband use it,” I thought to myself, and I put any further notions of operation aside.

So one Sunday my husband used the brushcutter.  It took practice to get the back-and-forth motion right, and to do the job smoothly.  He missed a lot of patches.  But at least he did it. Well, some of it.  There are only so many hours in the day.

So when he was called away to his work in Massachusetts, I realized that the job of woods-clearing was not going to get done unless I did it myself.  I thought it would be a nice anniversary present (34 years!) for him to not have to finish this chore himself.  I tried reading the manual and practically had a panic attack.  I put it aside, and tried to forget about it, but that creeping woodland was looming.

Today I decided it was now or never.

First I got dressed.  When you use a brushcutter, vines, leaves, thorns, and wood go flying.  Obviously I was going to wear safety goggles, but I also put on knee-high work boots, long sleeves, thick leather work gloves, hearing protection (against the noise) and farmers overalls.  You heard that right.  Bib overalls.  You know – – the kind of denim overalls farmers wear.  (Train engineers used to wear a striped version, and carpenters wear them in white).   They may not be available at your local WalMart, but they are available at the WalMart near where I live.  I wasn’t worried about tznius (dressing modestly according to Orthodox custom) because the only living thing that could see me was a chipmunk, who fled for its life.  I wanted as much of my body protected as possible. (I did cover my hair with a scarf, though.)

Let me interject by saying that while it has been a good many years since I’ve worn slacks, I have always dressed comfortably (“like a shlump,” my mother a’h, who was always immaculately dressed and groomed, would say).  My “uniform” is a denim skirt and for me, it’s pure torture to dress up in a fancy Shabbos dress or a suit.  I haven’t worn pantyhose in 20 years.  So the overalls weren’t all that awkward.

But back to the brushcutter:  after finding the right opening, I filled the brushcutter with the oil and gas mixture.  I pressed the thingamajiggy and then tried the pull starter, but nothing happened, so I turned the whatchamacallit and pressed the thingamajiggy again and pulled the starter and Vroom!   The brushcutter sprang to life in a most ferocious way.  Depressing yet another button, which made the blade turn, I started hacking and whacking.  Even with the bicycle handles and the shoulder strap, the brushcutter was a back-strainer, but that could also be because I was very tense and was repeating to myself, “I don’t want to die.  I don’t want to die.”

Soon I got into the rhythm of it, although it was admittedly tough going.  I didn’t find all that horsepower thrilling – – at the risk of sounding chauvinistic, I think that’s a guy thing.  But the brushcutter did get the job done, and it sure was a lot less labor-intensive than pulling weeds and digging up roots.  By now the sun was beating down, and all those layers of protective clothing meant I was schmaltzing.  Even though the brushcutter has an anti-vibration feature, despite the upper-arm workout from kayaking, my not-so-buff biceps were starting to feel like jelly.  I made a few more swipes at the woods and decided to call it a day.

I came inside and took off my scarf.  I was so hot that my short hair stuck flat to my scalp.  My face was beet red.  I was sweating – – not perspiring, but really sweating, in a manly sort of way.  I took a look in the mirror:  Eek!   I didn’t recognize the person I saw there.  I looked like our exuberant Town Clerk – who is a very nice lady who happens to be gay and very butch.

No, I did not take a picture of myself.

I quickly got out of the overalls, ran to the shower, toweled off and put on a skirt.

Happy Anniversary, dear Husband.  Next year I’m baking you cookies.

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