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  • A few choice words are sharper than an old ax

  • As a youngster in the Illinois Valley, I was blessed to have a remarkable uncle whose swearing ability was legendary.
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  • As a youngster in the Illinois Valley, I was blessed to have a remarkable uncle whose swearing ability was legendary.
    We're talking about a region where the cussing competition was mighty fierce back in the day.
    But my late Uncle Ed could string together sinfully delicious adjectives into a thing of beauty that would have impressed even my Marine Corps drill instructors. And they were no slouches when it came to barking out a sailor's blessing.
    He was a poet of the profane, a Billy Sunday of expletives who delivered swearing sermons with evangelical power and conviction. For him, cussing was an art form to be carefully crafted.
    Yet he did not swear as a matter of coarse conversation or to produce high-volume vulgarity. I never once heard him toss out an F-bomb or blaspheme in vain.His six-cornered oaths had a purpose. They were simply his way of beseeching a higher power to bring hell fire and damnation down on whatever was bedeviling him.
    I can still see him casting curses at his fishing fly snagged in a tree over Sucker Creek in the 1960s. I remember him driving expletives into a chunk of wood reluctant to surrender to his splitting maul. As an impressionable kid, I concluded his verbal venting somehow helped him conquer his foe.
    Small wonder I sometimes employ that under-utilized verbal tool when cutting brush on our property in the Sterling Creek drainage half a dozen miles south of Jacksonville. Incidentally, I go for the root ball to ensure the brush doesn't grow back.
    As a result, it often takes numerous whacks fueled by well-chosen swear words to cut the tough root down to size.
    "You really should get a grip," Maureen told me the other day. "When you are wildly swinging an ax while questioning the parentage of brush at the top of your lungs, it makes me a tad nervous.
    "Besides, you are scaring the dogs."
    "The profanity helps," I panted in protest.
    But my wife did have a point. Our large mutts Harpo and Waldo were huddled together in our adjacent dog park. The cowardly curs were whining.
    I'm not sure whether dogs swear, although Harpo does utter three sharp barks on occasion which sound disturbingly like he is referring to Waldo's mom as unmarried. Maureen has been talking to Harpo about his potty mouth.
    She is most assuredly not a swearer, even though I have been patiently giving her execration lessons over the years. Like a former MT co-worker whose best attempt at swearing was "drat nabbit," Maureen doesn't go there.
    True, she is a much nicer person than her spouse.
    However, thinning a forest does have a way of cutting through the niceties, so to speak.
    Since April, we have spent nearly every weekend thinning the unnaturally thick forest on three acres adjacent to our rustic abode to reduce the fire danger. We signed a contract with the Oregon Department of Forestry to reduce the brush and smaller trees on those three acres nearest the house.
    It's a great program for qualified property owners and the ODF, whose firefighters help protect rural property. In addition to cutting the wildfire threat, foresters tell us it will improve the health of our forest.
    As an incentive, the department has a grant to pay landowners up to $400 an acre to do the work on a limited number of acres around a house. It's a good way to recoup tax money while helping protect your home.
    Since I worked in the logging woods in my younger years, including running up and down mountainsides dragging a choker, I figured thinning the acreage would be a walk in the park.
    A couple of weekends armed with a chain saw, ax, pruning shears and pole saw. No problem.
    But I neglected to account for a few changes over the past 40 years. There is the little matter of the metal plate in my left leg. And that's my good leg. I have also grown long of tooth while sitting for far too long at a desk.
    Still, we have bushwhacked through the lion's share of the wooden jungle. We will get the job done by year's end.
    But after chopping away recently at one monstrous root wad, only to have my ax and curses bounce off of it, I flopped down on the hillside for a rest.
    Maureen promptly dropped her pruning shears and picked up the ax.
    "Watch this, sweetie," she said.
    She swung. The ax bounced off. Again she struck. Again it bounced off. She swung again and again. Each time the ax bounced back.
    "You dirty, rotten son of a ——," she suddenly shouted as she flailed away. "You dung-infested, lowlife piece of crap. I hope you rot in ——."
    Sure, it was a bit redundant, even a mite pedestrian in its delivery.
    But somewhere Uncle Ed is smiling.
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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