“Clearing” features large in my childhood memories. We helped Dad clear deadfalls even when we were fairly young, dragging branches away from the tree as he cut them — the smell of sawdust and exhaust from the chainsaw, the unwieldy way long branches would tip as we raised them so they’d sail deep enough into the woods to be out of our way. As we grew older and stronger, we learned to buck small trees so he could cut them into logs, pushing the log forward by a chainsaw-length and then steadying it between hands and knees so he could cut.

Then there was the task of clearing blackberries around the property. I still have vivid memories of hot sun, of the weight of the corn knife in my hand, the satisfying song as it sliced through smaller stems; then the less satisfying task of crawling in with loppers to cut the canes at their base, and wriggling out through thorns; and then hauling the canes out to the burn pile, the tangled, dragging mass that had somehow to be wrestled up onto the pile.

And that doesn’t even touch on the couple of summers where I was assigned a major clearing job: the year Kevin and I were tasked with taking back the upper corner of the vineyard from scotch broom; the year Peter and I cleared the woods’ path of encroaching alders, and I learned how to set the choke so he could drag them out with the tractor.

I’m sure I grumbled at the time, but I came to somewhat enjoy clearing work — especially deadfalls. It was hard, gritty, sometimes thorny work, but also satisfying.

So when Dave recently trimmed the tree branches encroaching on the back of our property (we don’t own the trees, but they fail to respect that), I felt a certain sense of nostalgia. He had the boys out hauling branches for him, just as my Dad used to do with me; and although they grumbled a bit, they’re old enough now that they can do some solid work. It felt like a continuation.


I’m not sure they saw it that way. “You know, I used to sort of like clearing branches,” I told them at one point, and received twin stares of incomprehension.


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