Go Outside and Work—Where I’ve Been The Last Three Days

Isn’t there a “Go Outside and Play” meme that goes around?

Background: We moved into a place about three years ago, around this time of year (early September). The backyard was a principal thing for me, other than all wood floors inside…because wall-to-wall carpeting is the stupidest fucking thing ever created by man and demonstrates the power of marketing—combined with the idiocy of man—in covering up hardwood floors coast to cost in the 60s and 70s for “plush carpeting.” For those around or not, this culminated in gag-worthy “shag carpet.” Not to mention other “decorous delights…”

…Harvest Gold and Avocado, combined with dark cabinetry and flowery wallpaper, anyone?

But I do love it, albeit awkwardly. In retrospect, it serves as a metaphor for just how devoid of sense, perspective and lacking in any awareness of swaths of Renaissance style and artistic Merveilleuse the human animal can achieve, yet debase itself for the sake of cheap and obtainable, and “ou courant.” It’s grounding, in a perverse sense.

I digress, but I feel better….

…I came up with the plan Sunday afternoon over football and booze. In spite of having the trees trimmed almost 2 years ago—ending up with 18, 6′ diameter piles stacked 3′ high to haul away—I’ve come to realize there’s another problem. Trees planted when planted, are now big, and crowding one-another. I singled out SIX of them for culling, from 6-10″ diameter at the trunk, roughly. Basically, they were all getting in each others’ way as they grew. As the sometimes proper steward of the idiot, ignorant, and encephalitic, I did my job.

But, in my inebriated state, I crafted another plan as well. I’ll do it all “Neo-Paleo.” That is, t-shirt, shorts, barefoot throughout, and no protective gear. And, I’ll use a neolithic chainsaw instead of a neolithic machete (hey, what’s a few thousand years of industrial development amongst friends?). The other Neo-Paleo aspect—and this was all worked out while booze, football and Italian thingies they call antipasto (marinated peppers, shrooms, olives, roasted garlic) were competing for my attention—is that I knew I’d get scraped and cut up. ANTIBIOTICS!!!…if it should come to that.  …And, and…if I end up in the ER, call Wooo! Who knows? Amongst other things, I might need a catheter. :)

Come Monday morning, with only a bare recollection of my macho proclamations, manly chest-beating assertions and drunken oaths the night before, I waited for the morning fog to clear and decided I’d go for it anyway. I cut down the first tree of six, and being completely sober, of course, decided to cut and clear one tree at a time.

But work can be play and you might as well mix them up if you can. So, after clearing out the first tree that took like 5 minutes to cut down and another 45 minutes to clear, I decided to just have fun and just cut down all the other trees. “Hair of the Dog,” I said to myself. Then I’d clear and cut wood to dry for the fire pit.

IMG 2001
No Room at the Inn

By this time I’d already sustained a number of cuts & bruises on my arms & legs, but just couldn’t sit still. I’d go to take a break, sit down, and in 30 seconds I was up again. I put it out on Twitter, once I was able to sit still for more than a few minutes.

Cutting & trimming trees in backyard w chainsaw. No gloves, barefoot. #neopaleo. With all the scrapes and blood drops, I’m safe #antibiotics

Unexpectedly Dr. Bill Lagakos of Calories Proper popped up with a nearly immediate reply.

@rnikoley your testosterone levels are probably soaring. Fact –> (they did a study on it)

No shit. They did a study:

Age-independent increases in male salivary testosterone during horticultural activity among Tsimane forager-farmers

Testosterone plays an important role in mediating male reproductive trade-offs in many vertebrate species, augmenting muscle and influencing behavior necessary for male–male competition and mating-effort. Among humans, testosterone may also play a key role in facilitating male provisioning of offspring as muscular and neuromuscular performance is deeply influenced by acute changes in testosterone. This study examines acute changes in salivary testosterone among 63 Tsimane men ranging in age from 16 to 80 (mean 38.2) years during one-hour bouts of tree-chopping while clearing horticultural plots. The Tsimane forager-horticulturalists living in the Bolivian Amazon experience high energy expenditure associated with food production, have high levels of parasites and pathogens, and display significantly lower baseline salivary testosterone than age-matched US males. Mixed-effects models controlling for BMI and time of specimen collection reveal increased salivary testosterone (p<0.001) equivalent to a 48.6% rise, after one hour of tree chopping. Age had no effect on baseline (p=0.656) or change in testosterone (p=0.530); self-reported illness did not modify testosterone change (p=0.488). A comparison of these results to the relative change in testosterone during a competitive soccer tournament in the same population reveals larger relative changes in testosterone following resource production (tree chopping), compared to competition (soccer). These findings highlight the importance of moving beyond a unidimensional focus on changes in testosterone and male–male aggression to investigate the importance of testosterone–behavior interactions across additional male fitness-related activities. Acutely increased testosterone during muscularly intensive horticultural food production may facilitate male productivity and provisioning. [Emfeces meng]

Hmm. Very interesting. So I just asked Bill:

Screen Shot 2013 10 24 at 1 21 11 PM

So cut & bruised from head to toe, all whilst the setting sun was more prominent in the backyard than I’d ever seen it, I decided to wrap and begin the next day doing the more mundane clearing and cutting for firewood.

Immediately the next day, bright eyed and hard cock, I got an idea to trim some larger branches off standing trees. Here’s the thing. I failed to account for the difference of working overhead as opposed to near ground level.

IMG 2005

Yep, I took one in the face. That 4″ branch came off a bit before I expected. My shiner, 2 days later, is a work of biological art! Jesus, I was cross eyed for about an hour, and as the swelling went down, it turned into jaw & head ache.

On the other hand, I immediately rationalized: imagine if that had been my foot!

…Bea was like…”ice it, here’s this OTC and that.” I took nothing. Just asked her to cook dinner for me. I ate like a ravaged pig. Oh, yea, I did the entire day fasted as well. I was into 24 hours by about 3pm.

In the end I reflected that there’s never been close to a dead lift session I enjoyed so much, or got as much out of primally.

Here’s the debris for you paper users. You’re welcome.

IMG 2009

And here’s what’s for me, over the months to come in my backyard fire pit. Oxydationz!!!


It’s so weird. I’m bruised, banged up, scraped and have two deep gashes that’ll take a while. I have a black eye and former headache. I have not used one single thing. In fact, I have not even cleaned or dressed a single wound.

It’s been a while since I felt so alive, so vibrant, so in tune with much of what life perhaps ought to be about: FEELING it.

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  1. rob on October 24, 2013 at 16:21

    Nothing beats being beat to hell.

  2. Richard Nikoley on October 24, 2013 at 16:29

    …And living to laf, recount, and revel in it.

  3. Owen on October 24, 2013 at 17:32

    Love this post Richard, living LARGE Sir!!
    Cheers for that, hit the spot.

  4. Brock in HK on October 24, 2013 at 18:58

    Fight Club!

  5. Paleosphere News Roundup – 25 October 2013 | Must Love Paleo on October 25, 2013 at 00:51

    […] [Free The Animal] Go Outside and Work – Where I’ve Been The Last Three Days […]

  6. Paul C on October 25, 2013 at 07:15

    Don’t know what to say to this, other than it’s like going all in on one stock in the market. All it takes is one event to wipe you out, and then you are done forever.

    You seem to be saying in the words that the recklessness was the source of the thrill, but I think the real thrill was being out and getting work done. You could have achieved that with a few simple procedure changes and some relatively cheap safety equipment, and gotten the same results in a much smaller risk zone.

  7. Richard Nikoley on October 25, 2013 at 07:28

    Not really, Paul. Actually, I probably got it done more quickly being unencumbered, able to move quickly. Even the black eye only slowed me down for a while and I finished the job by that evening, 6-8 later. Just pushed through it.

    Now, if this was something my income depended upon, you betcha I’d wear the safety gear. Absolutely. That wasn’t my goal.

    And it wasn’t “reckless,” whatever that means. It was calculated. I knew I’d get cuts & scrapes, and I knew I needed to especially protect my feet. Only got one single thorn to the bottom of the foot in the entire job. No stubbed toes, no cuts, no bruises. Again, if I did this every day those cuts, scrapes and bruises would become debilitating as days wore on.

    That’s the distinction here. A little risk, a lot of reward, not really dangerous with presence of mind.

  8. Paul C on October 25, 2013 at 07:44

    You ignore the risks that are hidden or out of your control. I’m guessing hunter-gatherers have that built in through countless generations of teaching and observing, but now we need safety lessons and equipment to make up for it.

    The risks may be small statistically, but some have catastrophic consequences. Mechanical failure, tension wood that reacts unexpectedly, a felled tree that launches a snapped branch like a missle, saw kick-back because a blade gets a surprise pinch or touches the ground. A chainsaw overhead turns gravity into a horror movie.

    Not experiencing these events was purely statistics not skill.

  9. Richard Nikoley on October 25, 2013 at 07:53

    “these events was purely statistics not skill.”

    Laf. I’ve been using chainsaws since I was 12, asshole. I had many kickbacks; had to rethread the chain twice.

    Speak to your own _incompetence_, not your projection of mine.

  10. Richard Nikoley on October 25, 2013 at 08:00


    Just another chainsaw job done by myself. About 100 trees cleared, some up to 18″ diameter, many that had to be carefully felled so as not to fall on the cabin or deck.

  11. Richard Nikoley on October 25, 2013 at 08:09


    Now I’m pissed I didn’t do a blog post two years ago of me clearing debris on that 2/3 acre with a rake and shorts, no shoes or gloves. At one point, I was attending to a dozen burn piles, barefoot.

    A week of barefoot MovNat prepped me pretty well for that.

  12. Paul C on October 25, 2013 at 08:10

    The world is full of old woodworkers that didn’t cut off the first finger until late in life. Pure statistics, competence has nothing to do with it.

    My great-grandfather was a logging camp foreman, and he died after a log rolled off a pile onto his leg. Died from infection, due to his incompetent white blood cells.

  13. Richard Nikoley on October 25, 2013 at 08:23

    …And typical personal safety gear has nothing to do with those.

    In the first case, fewer accidents are the result of better equipment, placement of the big red stop switch, saw blade guards, etc. In the second case, it’s probably mostly better procedures from lessons learned from such accidents, i.e., how much of a slope is acceptable to stack logs, how high, and where not to be.

    I don’t think you understand. I used to manage deck and helicopter operation for both moorings and underway replenishment on three ships, all in excess of 7,000 tons. This involves lots of people, and lots of 3″ lines and 1″ cables under enormous tension, all of which can cut a man or 6 in half if they snap with people in the “bite” (similar to what you see in crab fishing when the pot goes in the water and where people must not be standing).

    I have no idea if you know what you’re doing, or not, but your presumptions about me are simply false.

  14. Paul C on October 25, 2013 at 08:51

    You must see the problem with thinking that because you came out of an experience X times unharmed, that blesses you with magical harm avoidance powers.

    You are such a good risk assessor financially and health-wise, apply the same here. “Here’s the thing. I failed to account for the difference of working overhead as opposed to near ground level. Yep, I took one in the face. That 4″ branch came off a bit before I expected.” Safety equipment will take care of virtually all of the “I failed to account for” things.

    I have a unique perspective on this as my company has a database full of employment injuries from every type of industry. These are the most experienced people on the planet, and so many many non-remotely-funny injuries. When you see injuries as statistics rather than as lack of skill, you see how easy it is to shrink your risk, at minor cost of encumbrance.

  15. Matthew on October 25, 2013 at 08:54


  16. Richard Nikoley on October 25, 2013 at 09:13

    You are dealing with the equivalent of rounding errors and trying to make them equivalent to cognition.

    I get this all the time. Safety first, bla, bla bla as someone gets in their car–the most dangerous place to be on the planet.

    No typical safety gear and not even a hard hat would have prevented that.

    You are “arguing” safety first, at the expense of getting nothing done. In the meantime, I have a life to lead and things to get done, and I prefer to take my chances.

  17. Richard Nikoley on October 25, 2013 at 09:25

    …Let’s take safety glasses, for instance. Double edged sword. The reason for wearing them is to protect eyes from flying bits off the chainsaw (I just squint).

    But, had I been wearing them and a hardhat, the hardhat would have done nothing. The glasses, however— because of the difference between a 1 cm diameter in a tight curvature and a relatively “softer” tree branch with a 4″ diameter and magnitudes wider curvature—means that I got a blow just squishing fatty flesh against my cheekbone instead of a chipped or broken bone from driving a small hard piece of plastic into it.

    But go ahead and query your database. It’s all you need to know about life, risks, dangers and tradeoffs.

  18. rob on October 25, 2013 at 12:57

    Estrogen says “Be careful, safety first.”
    Testosterone says “Shut the fuck up.”

  19. Richard Nikoley on October 25, 2013 at 13:10

    It also says I know what I’m doing, I don’t pretend to fantasize risks to feel comfort, and I’m going to take my chances.

  20. Will on October 26, 2013 at 14:37

    Gotta confess…kinda glad that the pics were only of the “wood” you chopped down…

  21. Mike on October 26, 2013 at 18:03

    4 Trips to the ER for me in the last 11 months I laugh my ass off each time afterwards really enjoy the superglue though lots nicer than stitches

  22. Joshua on October 28, 2013 at 11:20

    Do you use the palm logs for firewood? I’ve never been able to get palm to burn for shit.

  23. Richard Nikoley on October 28, 2013 at 12:18

    Yea, they’ll work. But you want to cut them in about 6″ slices.

  24. Leo Desforges on November 24, 2013 at 07:51

    Paul, do you Jack off ogling a photo of your risk assessment professional?

    Great post Richard. I was on my way to the backyard to do the same (machete, camp axe, maul, camp saw) to process some brush piles into firewood for the fire pit. Maybe even do a bit of bushcrafting with the branches. It’s 24 Fahrenheit and gusty here in New England. I will wear a coat and gloves, thank you.
    The key to loving (or at least tolerating) the winter weather here is to go outside, even when it’s cold. Many folks miss that and end up more depressed than usual.

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