Our neighbor Scott runs a small chainsaw repair and sales shop. It’s tucked into clearing on a gravel road, constructed of rough sawn lumber and a cracked concrete floor. There’s a wood stove with a glass viewing door that’s been broken for at least a couple of winters. Like as not, there’s something wrapped in tin foil set on the stove’s surface to warm for lunch. Once, when I stopped by the morning after a storm, I found a snowmobile parked at the entrance and a sign on the front door: We’re out on the snowmachines. If you need us, take the Skidoo and follow our tracks. You can sort of see what kind of place it is.
We have two chainsaws, and they get used a fair bit, so I stop by the shop pretty often. Plus, it’s only about a half-mile up the road from our place, and sometimes I get lonely, so there’s that. But generally I like to have at least a plausible excuse, so I go to buy bar and chain oil, chains, air filters, and so on. I even go to have the saws worked on. Chainsaws can be a little finicky; they run at ridiculously high rpm’s (your car generally runs at about 3,000 rpm’s, while a chainsaw runs at about 13,000), and are subject to a fair bit of abuse, so it’s not uncommon for things to break.
Scott has a single employee, a 20-something fellow named Levi, who, far as I can tell, has been working on chainsaws since he had to be careful not to spill bar oil on his diaper. I like Levi a whole lot. He’s a Grade A bullshitter, a story teller, a yarn spinner. As one might imagine, we get along real good. (PS: I like Scott a whole lot, too)
Most of the things Scott and Levi fix on our saws are pretty simple, and I’m always a little embarrassed that I didn’t at least try to fix it myself. But then I wouldn’t have had the plausible excuse to stop by and shoot the breeze while one of them tinkers on my saw for a half-hour or so and then charges me $10. I’m not sure how they decide what to charge – no one watches a clock or writes anything down – but it’s almost always $10. If I need a part, it comes of one of the 1,000’s of salvage saws piled in one of the adjoining rooms. Come to think of it, the part’s usually about $10, too.
Often another customer stops in while I’m there. Scott and Levi are quite popular among career woodsmen, so like as not, the man coming through the door (and it’s almost always men; I rarely see women in there) makes his living in the woods. These are folks who buy bar oil by the case. They drive large-ish pickup trucks that are dented, because logger trucks are always dented, as if the standing trees are exacting some small revenge for their fallen brethren. They have heavy northern Vermont accents, and speak the vernacular common to the region. For instance, Don’t for doesn’t (as in, it don’t matter to me). Good for well. And ain’t. They tend to say ain’t pretty often. Shit and fuck get tossed around a fair bit, too. They have thick arms and thicker chests, or they’re wiry in that muscle-over-bone way, and if they’ve been cutting softwood, they carry the sweet smell of spruce and fir. They are usually cheerful but occasionally are not.
Wood is huge factor in our lives. We put up all our firewood, and we mill much of the lumber we use for our building projects. Just today I spent a couple hours bucking and splitting firewood, then a couple more hours running rough pine boards through a borrowed planer to make wall paneling. We warm our house with wood, we cook on wood, we make maple syrup and sugar on wood, our water is heated by wood, we build with wood Truth is, I bet we spend more time with our hands on dead trees then we do with our hands in the soil. Our lives are at least as dependent on the forest as they are on the garden, and I guess this makes sense, because for at least six months of the year ‘round these parts, you’ll freeze to death before you’ll starve.
What I’m saying is: Fire first. Then food. Remember that, and you’ll do just fine.
Also: I wrote a bit more about Scott’s shop here.