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  • At Put’s small engine store they have a mannequin togged out in protective gear up by the service counter looking out over all the latest model chainsaws, tillers, leaf blowers, and weed whackers. It is blaze orange combat ready from anti-vibration gloves to Kevlar chaps. When Carly and I headed for the woods the other day we were more basic models. Boots, a cap, and ear protectors. Once upon a time, I had a helmet with a tilt-up mesh visor but I managed to drop a tree on it. Luckily, it was not on my head at the time.

    We were looking for standing dead trees to cut for the sides of raised beds in the garden and firewood for the seasons ahead. We walked side by side through the fields I cleared in the past, through the ferns and light grasses under the new forest of birch and black locust, following the narrow trail into the dim and lichen hung vault of the spruce woodlot. The deep loft of the brown needle carpet soft and giving underfoot. Shafts of sunlight shone through as the trees swayed in the wind above. Carly walked ahead, the new chainsaw bright and ready at her side. I followed along with the familiar weight of the old resin and oil stained saw.

    Show me how to cut down a tree, she said.

    I demonstrated the basics. Flat cut on the side you want it to fall toward. Angle a cut down to take out a notch. Flat cut in on the backside but leave enough for a hinge. This time, the tree dropped within a couple of feet of where it was directed. Spruce in the thick, wind-swept island forest tend to have all their growth on one side. They rarely want to go where there is a space for them to fall.

    Carly knows the stories of me cutting the trees for the cabin over on Little Gotts. Vertical log jams and me fiddling underneath.

    Just make sure you have a clear way out, I tell her.

    Carly worked on limbing and chunking up a tree for firewood. I’ve talked about how a cut can bind and where on the bar to cut and not to press and let the weight of the saw do the work but the only way to learn is to do. Words are limited and limiting when it comes to learning a skill.

    All the skills I have learned I did so by having the space and time to make mistakes. From ooops to oh shit, there is no other way to get there. Now it was time to give her that space. I headed off and worked on my own.

    We met up when it was time to pitch logs into piles, heave the brush and gas up. It’s years since I worked side by side with anyone in the woods. A labor in two saw harmony.

    Finally I have a chainsaw I can start, she told Claire. It feels, so, so

    Empowering, said Claire.

    Yeah, said Carly, that.

    Today, Carly and I dug out sod in the new garden. Side by side we jumped on the spades to drive them through the matted roots. One hundred feet of new garden beds and we are more then three-quarters of the way to the end of the string line we stretched a couple of weeks ago.

    Side by side. Shuffle, stomp, pry back, shuffle stomp, pry back. Cutting thick sod into manageable rectangles and stacking them to the side. The first in a series of new garden spaces to bring us up to commercial levels on a small scale. She had her ipod going but I am not much for conversation when I work.

    I can’t tell you how happy I am to have the chance to do this, she said last night, flushed with wine and work.

    The chance Carly was talking about, isn’t just a season of island chores. It is not just another summer out of time. She’s quit her job and is setting up shop with Claire. Mother and daughter starting an island business based on organic botanicals and seaweed.

    So side by side we’ll dig and cut and build. All the old skills taking on a new meaning. All the old skills passing from hand to hand.
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