Volume 33, Number 4

Gabriel And The Chainsaws

L. J. Chizak

Gabriel climbed the hill to the cedar grove above his village and lay on the soft needles under a giant 200-foot patriarch. The temperature reached thirty-eight degrees Celsius, and the coolness of the trees welcomed him. He had loved this spot as a boy, and as a man it didn’t diminish the bond. He felt the warmth of generations surrounding him and inhaled the fresh smells and the rays of the sun. The cedars had stood on the mountain for thousands of years, and this grove was his fortress. They stood tall against the wind and their outstretched arms sheltered him from the winter snow and the summer heat. The giants gave him strength. He remembered the games played as children—Christian, Jews, and Muslims—in a time of unity. Gabriel looked up at the swaying branches, shifting, changing formations, and sorted the images portrayed and futures foretold. He opened the top of his thobe, the long shirt worn in his village, and let the breeze cool his bare chest. Gabriel’s family had lived here since the Maronite Christians sought refuge from the Arabs in the seventh century. His return every summer from Beirut revitalized his body and spirit. The cedars brought solace to his eyes and a peaceful sleep.

Gabriel, Gabriel!

He jolted awake and sensed a hand on his shoulder, but no one stood near him. Was he dreaming? He jumped to his feet.

“Who’s there? Show yourself!”


He inhaled the stillness of the mountain air. Fully awake, he heard a buzzing in the distance: a whining, as if a child pestering for candy—a low cry rising in volume to a persistent screech—then a pause as if catching a breath, and back again. Except the cry wasn’t of a child or even a group of children. A more powerful and threatening force filled the air.

As Gabriel ran toward the sound with his thobe drawn above his knees. It stopped. A silence followed, then a thundering snap, and an earthshaking thud that moved the ground and sent the birds squawking from their nests. A cloud of dust rose from the ravine below. Gabriel stumbled up to the ridge and gasped at what he saw.

A giant cedar lay surrounded by small, flattened trees. A large man stood at its shattered base, shirtless, with khaki fatigues tied by a black belt. His muscles hid the chainsaw held in his hands. He laughed with his bald head thrown back and his black beard jutting out.

“We got that bastard. Now get the hell to work and carve it up.” A half-dozen men in the clearing started their saws.

Seven men moved toward the fallen victim. The shirtless one walked over to make another cut, and the roar of aggressors deafened the scene.

“Stop, stop, stop,” Gabriel yelled as he ran down the slope, waving his arms.

In the din of dismemberment, no one heard him. They continued slicing up the prone victim. Gabriel raced to the tree and stood with his hands outstretched. “Stop!”

“What the hell?” The big man yelled and turned off his chainsaw. “Where the fuck did you come from?” The others fell silent as their leader stared down at Gabriel.

“You can’t cut down these trees,” Gabriel cried, stretching his five-foot-seven frame beyond his twenty-eight years.

“Why not, for Christ’s sake?” The man laughed as the others moved around them.

“These are God’s trees,” Gabriel pleaded in a voice mixed with exasperation and shock. The circle of men snickered.

“God, shmod,” the big man answered. “I have an order to cut down cedars, and no God said nothing different. Jake, did God say anything to you?” he called to a wiry man sitting on the stump.

“Nope, not a word, boss.” The others looked at each other like a pack of wolves waiting for dinner.

“No, no. You can’t cut them down. These are the cedars He planted, used in Babylon and Egypt to build palaces before the pyramids. King Hiram clothed the temple in Jerusalem with cedar, and the fragrance filled the Holy of Holies.” Gabriel looked around at the men but found blank faces. “They have been on this mountain since the beginning of time. You can’t cut them down.” Gabriel said between gasps for air. The surrounding men laughed.

”Now listen here, you little asshole,” the big man declared, towering over him, his black beard inches from Gabriel’s face. “The guys putting the railroad through here need road ties. We’re getting three US dollars a tie. I can get three to four hundred out of this motherfucker alone and neither you nor your god ain’t gonna stop me.” He motioned to his crew. “Get this little piece of shit out of here and back to work.”

Three men approached Gabriel, shorter than the shirtless one but just as big. Each wore jungle fatigues and protruding muscles, except for Jake, the wiry one, who moved the others along with agility and authority.

“No, wait. There are other trees,” Gabriel called out. “Pines and junipers, you can…”

The boss waved his chainsaw, and the three men picked up Gabriel, one at each arm and one at his feet, and carried him off, twisting and screaming. The four took him to a ravine covered with grass and tossed him down. Gabriel slid and bounced until he hit bottom, unhurt except for a scrape on his knee and a tear in his thobe. He stood and stared at the men on the ridge.

“Now go home,” the wiry one yelled. “This is none of your business. You’ll only get yourself hurt, or worse.” The men returned to the harsh sound of steel teeth.


Gabriel hurried along a small path back to his village. He carried a great weight in his heart, but necessity moved his legs forward.

Gabriel picked up his pace as he approached. The houses, fifty or sixty, earthen brick with flat roofs, nestled in the foothills of Mount Lebanon.

Juniper, myrtle and an occasional cedar marked the route. Jasmine, wrapped around the trees near the road, sent out the fragrance of heaven, but did nothing to lift Gabriel’s spirits. The path turned sharply to the right and opened along a stone and mortar wall topped with orange tile. It led to a heavy wooden door carved with ancient Christian symbols. Gabriel heard his father’s voice in conversation. He opened the door, hesitated and entered.

His father, standing under a grape arbor, wore the yellow baggy pants of the older generation and a pink tunic under a velvet vest. He was talking to a man in the traditional Arab robe and headdress. They appeared solemn to Gabriel, talking politics again.

When his father saw Gabriel, he turned and said, “Gabriel, the Lord be with you.”

“And with you, Papa,” Gabriel replied, and gave him a kiss.

“Do you remember Sheik Abdullah from Hebron?”

“Yes, but more from reputation. It is an honor to meet you. Salam”

“Ah, from reputation! Allah be praised. But don’t believe everything you hear,” the Sheik said, extending his hand. “Allah ysalmak.

Gabriel shook it with the force of one much older.

“The Sheik and I were discussing…”

“Papa, do you know what’s happening to our grove?” Gabriel interrupted his father, whose eyes widened, and mouth fell. “Men with chain saws are cutting down the cedars,” Gabriel said, without giving his father a chance to answer. “To make railroad ties, railroad ties. Our cedars are going to hold up a railroad. They’re destroying our, our grove.” His dark eyes widened, and his words sputtered out like a torrent of fire.

Gabriel’s father gaped at him and shook his head, trying to interrupt his son’s tirade when the Sheik intervened. “Yes, I know of it, rebuilding the old British railroad from Tyre to Damascus and a need to finish quickly.”

“Why not use the old road, the truck route?” interrupted his father. “The same route used for centuries to carry silk and spices.”

“Trucks can’t carry large tanks and anti-aircraft guns or giant bombs,” the Sheik replied. “Damascus feels the need for more security than Allah sees a need to provide.”

“Who are these people?” Gabriel demanded. His father moved to silence him, but the Sheik held up his hand.

“A European firm,” the Sheik stated in a calm voice, “unloading tons of equipment and goods in Tyre. They need a quick route to Damascus while the market is,” he paused, “Hot.” The Sheik raised his hands over his head. “So I am told.”

“Can’t they build it somewhere else, not through our grove?” Gabriel said, moving closer to the Sheik.

“Rebuilding the old British railroad is the fastest and, more important, cheapest way to get there.” The Sheik smiled and lowered his voice. “All the wood from my side of the mountain is gone. War is more important than God’s trees.”

“Don’t these foreigners know that these trees have been here before Abraham? They’re destroying our way of life, destroying us!” Gabriel shouted at the Sheik.

“Enough, enough of this,” Gabriel’s father said. “You are shouting at our guest as if he were a common servant. This is not the way to treat him. Apologize immediately.”

Gabriel lowered his head and in a much softer voice offered, “Ann egnak, I am sorry, Sheik Abdullah. Please accept my apology. I let my anger carry me away.”

“You are right and just to be angry,” the Sheik answered. “What you saw and said is true, but there is nothing we can do about it.” He raised his hands as if to Heaven. “We tried and, unfortunately, failed.” He lowered his hands and looked at Gabriel. “The company has too much money and too much power with our leaders. We must accept the future as Allah planned.” He puts his hand on Gabriel’s shoulders. “I accept your apology. God’s ways are strange, Gabriel. Sometimes He gives meat to those without teeth.”

Gabriel raised his head. “I understand the wisdom of your words but find it hard to swallow Allah’s plan.” He relaxed his face and said, “Shukran jazilogn, thank you.”

“Now what were we talking about, Sheik, before my son rudely barged in?” Gabriel’s father asked with a glance at Gabriel.

“I’m sorry to have interrupted you,” Gabriel said. “I’ll be on my way.”

Gabriel’s father nodded, and the Sheik added, “May Allah guide you.”

As Gabriel walked away, his papa called, “Gabriel!”

Gabriel stopped and turned around, his eyes still on the ground. He knew never to ignore his father’s voice.

“Forget about the cedars. You are on vacation. Go home to your lovely wife and make me some grandchildren. That’s more important.”

Gabriel flushed and, with a smile reserved only for young men, looked up and said, “Yes Papa.”


Gabriel left the courtyard and continued along the path through the small village. When he got to the square, traders and farmers had opened their stalls. Copper pots and fresh beets shared space with live ducks and butchered lambs, blood still on their necks. Arabic mixed with Hebrew and a modern form of Aramaic filled the air. Everyone talked at once, pushing produce, haggling prices. It was market day, and nothing had changed. The smells of garlic with roast lamb, of dates and roses, and the noises of the market had remained in Gabriel’s memory. Heated exchanges over price ended with a smile and a handshake. He passed through the crowd of shoppers and came to a small side street between a kosher deli and an itinerant merchant of prayer rugs. Halfway down the narrow alleyway, he entered the attached house bought before he married. It was a small stucco painted white and green with a second floor, a roof patio and open windows. This was his home, not the one-bedroom flat he and Elana rented in Beirut. The house sat unimposing, like most on the street, saying, “Forget me, I am nothing.” When he closed the door behind him, the voices of the market fell silent.

“Elana,” he shouted, looking for his wife of one year. He moved into the kitchen. The smell of lamb stew on the stove greeted him, but no Elana.

“Why do you yell so?” Elana asked as she came from the courtyard with a basket full of greens. When she saw him, her eyebrows and black eyes drew together, and her jaw dropped to erase a smile. “You look troubled, and why is there blood on your thobe?”

“An army of chainsaws is cutting down the trees, the trees, Elana, our trees.” He threw his arms out to embrace her and his home.

“What trees and what army? How did you cut your knee? Is it broken?” she asked in rapid staccato, leaving little room for answers. She lifted his thobe to examine the scrape he suffered when they threw him down the ravine. She went to the sink and wet a cloth.

“Our trees, Elana, the cedars on Mt. Lebanon, are being cut down.”

“Who are these men, Gabriel? The elders, the army, what?” she asked as she applied healing ointment to the cut.

“A group of mercenaries hired by a lumbering company,” he said, catching his breath at the pain, then calming himself. “They’re butchering our cedars to make railroad ties.”

“No, no! How can this be? No one would take our beautiful cedars to make railroad ties. Our trees are too valuable. Why not use pine?”

He sat at the table, and she sat opposite him, shaking her head at what he said and bandaging his wound. Her long black hair hung over her face, falling on the red thawb she wore when in the village. “Are you sure?” she asked with hesitancy in her voice.

“Yes. I tried to stop them, but the boss wouldn’t listen. He danced around the felled tree like a David before Goliath, ready to spike its head on a rod. These men do not know what they are doing. To them, everything is money.” He took Elana’s hands. “The trees on the other side of the mountain have fallen. Elana, there is greed in their eyes and nothing in their hearts.”

Elana sat without words and her head shook as if counting the trees on the mountain. “Is there nothing we can do?” she asked Gabriel, whose eyes never left her.

“Nothing,” answered Gabriel. “The sheik says their money is too powerful.”

“These intruders do not realize these are the Lord’s trees?” Elana asked, “The trees of the Lord are well watered, the Cedars of Lebanon that He planted,” she added quoting the Psalms. “Don’t they know this?”


“What right do they have to come into our land and take what is not theirs?”

“I don’t know,” Gabriel answered, seeing her eyes flare as her hands pounded the table.

“Gabriel,” Elana said. “We must stop them. ‘The righteous will flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.’ Without our cedars, we cannot grow. We will perish. We must stop the chainsaws.”

“Yes, we will,” Gabriel answered and clenched her hand. She no longer questioned but moved closer, sheltered by him.

Gabriel did not know how he would stop the saws in the grove. He knew Elana needed an answer and reflected on the Psalm she had recited. He felt the anger in his heart strengthen.

“We will call the ‘righteous’ as the prophet wrote, those who don’t want their country taken over by foreign mercenaries, those who will not let our heritage be cut down for railroad ties.” Elana pressed closer to him. He put his arm around her. “We will stage our own ‘Arab Spring,’ Elana. We will call for demonstrations, chain ourselves to the cedars and kneel before their saws.” As Gabriel spoke, his voice became stronger, full of confidence. “We will bring world attention to what is happening here. We will embarrass the money-hungry, so they stop. The world news lives for such stories. We will give them one, one they have never seen, of hundreds chained to the Cedars of Lebanon. We will be peaceful, no violence, no guns. We will be a multitude with a mighty voice.” Gabriel stood tall before her. He had a trumpet in his words, a call to action. He stood like one with his cedar grove. “We are their guardians; we will not be silenced.”

“Who will join us?” Elana asked, looking up at him.

“The righteous, Elana, the righteous: those who protest at the university, those who march in the streets, those who can’t find work, those who love Lebanon.” Gabriel answered, pacing around the table. “I will call Raphael at the university union and Michael of the Lebanese League. They will rally the students with the media. We will contact Ariel in the Environmental Bureau and Metatron in Beirut. Abdul and Joseph will gather the workers to come to our aid.” He pulled Elana close to him. “We will enlist all those who don’t want our country destroyed and march to save the cedars the Lord had planted.”

“But no violence,” Elana said, pulling him closer. “Remember your brother and the Phalanges? Your father would be hollow if he lost another son.”

“No violence, I promise. We will be peaceful. We only want to save the cedars. St. Maron, the holy hermit, and St. Makhlouf will be our guides.”

Gabriel opened his arms, and she nestled into him. He felt her heartbeat subside. She sensed the tensions in his body loosen. Gabriel had a plan, and Elana felt secure. They will save the cedars. Together, they walked to the bedroom. When Elana ran her fingers through his hair, Gabriel remembered his father’s request.


Over three hundred responded: university students, young out of work laborers, artists, musicians and a few dissident groups whose causes Gabriel did not understand. They planned to meet in the grove and stay there until the cutting stopped.

“On Sunday, the children of Abraham will gather beneath the cedars, march like their forefathers did and chain themselves to the trees.” Gabriel told Elana as she and the other women prepared meals for three days of siege.


Gabriel awoke early the next morning. He had a blissful night with Elana, prepared for what lay ahead. He dressed in an old pair of jeans, hiking boots, a tan shirt, his brother’s flak jacket and hat. He stood prepared to spend four days camping under the cedars. When he finished dressing, he went to a box on his dresser and withdrew his grandfather’s gold pendant. About two inches in diameter, one side held the crucified Christ; the other, a relief of St. Maron, the fifth-century monk who had founded the Maronite Christian sect. He blessed himself, kissed the pendant and hung it around his neck. “They shall not crush the voice of God.”


Gabriel led the protesters into the grove. They chained themselves to the trees. Elena and the women came with the food. Townspeople and onlookers formed a circle around them as the police remained at a distance. The press with their TV cameras, photographers and prime time reporters came in force. It was a joyous mood with songs. Everyone laughed and talked. Old men told stories of former battles and past exploits. At noon, everyone sat down to a diner prepared by Elana and the women. The police ate with the villages. The media retreated to the edge of the ravine to drink their arak and write their stories. As the sun descended, the cutters came and stood before the chained band. Towering over Gabriel, the boss started his chain saw. The others followed, and the roar of the blades covered the return of the media, the reporters, with flashing cameras. The chain saws became silent, and the cutters left.

Gabriel’s band spent a restless night, watching and weary. In the morning, an army of mercenaries marched in with giant cutters to remove the chains. The police did not come that day. They tried to cut or snap the links, but the chains held. The cutter threw their chain sheers at the cedars, ten feet above the heads of Gabriel’s band. They approached them with insults which landed on deaf ears, then attacked the band with boots and fists. Gabriel’s band still did not move. In the midst of the fracas, the townspeople came hurling rotten tomatoes, and the press came with their cameras. The cutters retreated in a tight band.

No one slept. Gabriel kept watch in a nighttime worry. The next morning, he saw the cutters walking into the grove, not with saws, but with guns. The media did not return that day. Gabriel opened the chains of as many protesters as he could, and those freed did the same. Many left the grove before the bullets hit the trees. Some fell like the giants they were protecting, others fled down the ravine. Bodies lay at the foot of the trees they swore to save. Gabriel saw Michael and Raphael fall before he felt a pain in his right leg. He slid down the ravine, out of sight.

In the shadows of the grove, a lone photographer raised his camera.


Gabriel stumbled through the grove and fell on a bed of needles under a giant cedar tree and stared at the sky. The sun, hot at midday, flashed through the branches of this hovering giant and those of its neighbors. He let out a long breath, releasing all the ache and adrenaline of his body. Gabriel opened his flak jacket, then his shirt and let the sun heat the pendant hanging from his neck. He hadn’t rested during the three days of protest and could go no further. His band of Maronites, Arabs and Jews were cut down like the cedars.

His body, strong, used to physical stress, had tired. He let the warmth of the sun fill the nakedness of his bare chest. Gabriel needed rejuvenation. He surveyed the surrounding woods and thought he saw a boy running among the cedars, hiding, circling and trying to catch a sunbeam. The boy sang a familiar song, “I will go, unto the altar of God,” then vanished.

Gabriel tried to lift his right hand and rub his face. His fingers did not move as he struggled to make a fist. He wanted to bend his elbow but couldn’t. His shoulders hurt, hurt horribly. Relaxing his body, he drew his left hand to his face and through his black curls. It brought peace. He repeated the motion, paused and continued. His mind flashed pictures of Elana, sitting on his lap, her hands through his hair and her breasts inches from his face. She’d be laughing, teasing him, gyrating his groin as he stiffened, her black eyes locked on his. He wanted to replicate the motion, but the pain shot down his left leg. Mucus dribbled down his chin.

Circles of people danced around him in his mind’s eye, singing, with white clothes in their hands. Elana came near him, but they could not touch. Family and friends smiled, grinned, laughed as they carried each away in separate chairs. He jolted awake. It was not time. The grove still held him as he lay, unable to move. He ran his hand down his left leg to the hole where the shrapnel entered, and blood oozed. The pain got worse when he tried to bend his knee or massage his leg. He just let the sun, shining through the cedars, touch the pendant around his neck. Clouds moved in and cast a green-black cover over the grove.

Soon the wind blew through the branches. They swayed as in prayer and lamentation. Birds called their mates to flee, and the rain played a dirge on cones and pine needles. Gabriel’s left hand gripped the surrounding earth. He filled his lungs with the scent of cedar, closed his eyes and let the darkness envelope him.

Gabriel, Gabriel!

He sat up.

The giant cedars stood tall, peering down at him.