It would have been easy to sail through Fairplay, CO, at near maximum highway speed.
The calendar said “mid-April,” but Mother Nature was fickle, alternating sunny days with the season’s final snowfalls that briefly “slicked up” the pavement.
Snow was flying; the temperature was in the upper 20s. I spotted the little roadside shop, hoping my wife would continue her snooze as we drove past Moose King Chainsaw Art. I saw a lone figure, his chainsaw humming. Barely out of Fairplay, Brenda awoke, glanced back toward town and suggested our return to give Fairplay a chance. There was a U-turn in our immediate future.
I was defenseless. Our hotel near the Denver Airport was just two hours away, and our flight wasn’t until the next day. We were both intrigued at the prospect of seeing replicas of bears — some nine feet tall — hewn from giant spruce trees.
Like the joke about the city guy who picked up a blazing hot horseshoe, then quickly tossed it aside, I could offer an altered excuse. You’ll remember how the blacksmith shop visitor diffused ranch hands’ guffaws suggesting he didn’t know that just-off-the-anvil horseshoes are mighty hot. The guy claimed he didn’t notice the heat, but that it “doesn’t take me long to look at a horseshoe.” My issue on lingering outside, however, was about cold, not heat.
I figured that if flakes flew “faceward” fraught with feelings of frigidity, I could retreat to the car, mumbling that it doesn’t take me long to look at carvings. Or, if the cold had been numbing, we could have gone inside to look at smaller items. Fascination, however, lay with the big objects taken down to size by a chainsaw artist with an eye for such things.
Evan E. Henley, shop owner and artist, made us feel welcome. However, I knew there wouldn’t be any “spruce bears” accompanying us back to Texas, since they won’t fit in the plane’s overhead bin.
Inside, though, the 36-year-old entrepreneur displayed various small wooden plaques.
Their messages were warm and “homey,” and several came home with us.
Like pets who want to be outside when they’re inside, and vice versa, my curiosity drew me back outside, where a dozen giant spruces, 30 feet long, lay on the ground.
They were delivered on 18-wheelers, and it seems magical that an artist’s skill and gassed-up saw can reduce the trees to likenesses of deer, eagles and bears.
Evan, a native of Cut-N’-Shoot, TX, has lived in Colorado for most of his adult life. I asked if he had any particularly funny memories so far. “You mean outside or in prison?” he asked.
I dropped the subject, respecting a man who took wrong forks in the road during his youth, but seems committed to taking the right ones now.
He has been in business for four years, working daily, whatever the weather.
One might call him a dedicated commuter. He lives 100 miles away in Pueblo.
He posed with his chainsaw, eagerly telling us about his business. Said his dad taught him about chainsaw art when he was 12, but didn’t “turn him loose” with a saw until he was 14.
It is clear that Evan is “in his element” in Fairplay, a resort community of about 800 people on Highway 285. (It is so named because of an uproar over land grant procedures during the Colorado gold rush of the 1850s. Gold and silver mining played out a century later, but tourists have filled the economic gap.)
Truly, he is a gentleman and an artist. We hope he sells tons of wooden wildlife. Right now, he’s stocking up for the 70th annual “burro race” over a 29.5 mile course will attract more than 10,000 visitors on the last Sunday in July. Guests arriving on Saturday can take in the llama races. Both events are fund-raisers for area schools.