Revenge of the Ponderosas

by Michael Carter

Pa lost his job when they shut down the corporate sawmill over the spotted owl and clearcut. We had no idea, in the end, we’d also lose Pa.

Lumber was the only way he knew to make a living, so he opened his own mill. He hired some locals who were also out of work, and they made two-by-fours and strand board from the Ponderosa Pines that blanketed the land we called home.

Some folks were not happy. The owl and clearcut were all over the news, and the enviros and Nimbys were suing like crazy. But that didn’t stop Pa.

“Nothin’s gonna keep me from choppin’ trees, ‘specially some little birdie that might not even exist. Never seen one myself. Been in these woods my whole life. How’s people s’posed to eat, anyway?”

The mill ran smooth thanks to Bryan, Pa’s friend with a girthy neck that formed lines in the back of his head. Bryan promptly escorted troublemakers off mill grounds. Turned out, however, protesters were the least of our worries.


I noticed the first sapling while I was heading to school. While backing out of the garage, I saw a tree had sprouted smack in the middle of our gravel driveway. At a few feet high, I wondered how I’d overlooked it before.

There were more trees when I returned home. Pa had cleared an acre around the house when he built it to allow light and keep it warm in winter. About a dozen saplings now dotted the area surrounding the house.

“Looks like we got a weed problem,” Pa said that evening. “Why don’t you and your brother git the shears and chop ‘em down?”

So we did. It was refreshing being outside, breathing the clean air, and Timmy and I felt as if we accomplished something besides homework and our usual chores. But, when I went to bed that night, I had a feeling they’d be back.

Sure enough, when I woke, about fifty trees twice as tall as Ma were up against the house and in front of the windows, like bars.

“Pa said you and Timmy have to trim back the weeds before heading to school and if they’re too thick, to get the hatchets from the shed.”

“They’re trees, Ma.”

“That’s what he’s callin’ them, so that’s what I’m callin’ them. Now get out there and cut.”

So we did. I used a hatchet, and Timmy used a limber saw. It took longer than we thought, and we were both late for our last day of school before summer break. Ma excused our tardies saying a mudslide had blocked our access road.

After school, I saw Pa’s truck out front. He was home early from the mill, and I wasn’t surprised why. He was clearing a path through a barrier of trees with a chainsaw so we could get into the driveway and the front door. The trunks were thicker than Bryan’s neck.


I woke every day that next week to Pa’s chainsaw. He started it earlier each morning.

“Damn trees!” he’d yell when the blade stuck in a trunk. “I don’t care how many rings ya got, I’m turning you to paper if you don’t leave us alone,” he’d say with a sinister chuckle.

We all rose before sunup the following week to help. We trimmed and hacked and sawed each morning. Eventually, we couldn’t keep up.

Branches snapped the phone line, but we still had power from the generator. Ma cooked canned food from the fallout shelter that Pa had built in the cellar.

The trees engulfed the house such that it was pitch black during the day if we turned off the lights. We were running low on supplies, and Pa was running out of ideas.

“We could burn our way out,” Pa said while flicking a Zippo inches from his nose, staring at it cross-eyed. “But most of these shitin’ trees is too young and sappy. They’ll just smoke.”

“Good,” I said, “the fire department will rescue us.”

Pa glared at me. “Yer not makin’ any sense. Never had nobody help me my whole life. I got this.”


Pa jabbered during dinner, and when we played Skip-Bo to pass the time. He’d play a hand and then mumble nonsense. “Sure wish I could git into the boat-buildin’ business and make some hulls with all these trees.”

We became gaunt from the lack of food, and Pa worried us more each day. The walls, he said, spoke to him, and he hated them as much as the trees.

One day, a pine bough broke through the kitchen window. Pa jumped out of his chair, ran to the garage and grabbed the chainsaws. He handed us each one and said, “Help me!”

He yanked the pull cord, delivering blue-white exhaust through the foyer. He took the chainsaw to the walls, making slash marks throughout the house. He sawed up our table, cabinets, and kitchen island. He went to the stairway and started into the railing.

“Where does it all end?” he yelled as his breath and sawdust filled the house.

We knew there was only one answer to Pa’s question.

We came up behind him while he was working on the railing. He’d saw through the top of a railing spindle, kick it down, saw through the next, kick it down, while we closed in on him. He couldn’t hear our saws over his own, or maybe he pretended not to.

With tears in our eyes, we took our chainsaws to Pa. He slumped to his knees while we tore into him; he never even looked back.

When he was finished, a breeze passed in the house. The first rays of daylight we’d seen in months splayed through the windows. Then, after we flicked our kill switches and the blades came to a stop, we heard the hooting of owls.

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