My husband and I met an artist today.
We had just stepped out of the woods onto the dirt road and were headed back to our house when one of the guys who have been logging the woods across the road waved to us.
“I see you walking there every day,” he said. “Do you own it?”
We don’t. We just walk there every morning. We used to walk the trail on the other side of the road, but once the logging operation swung into gear, we had to go the other way.
In a small clearing beside the road—made last fall, so we knew what was coming—there were two giant blue tractors with monster tires in chains, a feller-buncher, a crane-type machine that lifts mouthfuls of logs onto a three-foot rotary saw and two pick-up trucks. The largest machine, a chipper, wasn’t there this morning.
My husband asked “Matt”—his name was sewn onto a nametag on his work shirt—imagine a forest ranger but in grey instead of green, with a baseball cap instead of the Smokey Bear hat—some sort of innocuous question about the work, how many acres they were cutting, I think, and that little bit of interest launched us into a twenty minute conversation about how Matt chose which trees to be cut.
The owner of those 170 acres has had them logged three times since 1940, Matt told us. Selectively, he emphasized. You have to leave some big ones, he said. Some people buy wooded property for short-term profit, he told us. “But that’s not stewardship,” he said, shaking his head in disgust.
I can attest that the woods that we have walked in every day for the five years we have lived here are a lively mixture of trees: species, size, etc.
“It takes years to learn what to cut and when,” Matt said. “Some people just have an eye for it. See that one there?” he asked, pointing to a tree that was close to a foot around at its base. “That’s probably forty-five years old. We’re going to let her be.”
He wasn’t just harvesting these woods. He was tending them.
“You have to be careful,” he said. “A tree like that one—you bump into it and the bark will fly. It’s growing season.”
“You’re an artist,” I said.
“Anyone can be an artist,” he replied, without hesitation. “A welder, a truck driver. I do the best job I can. I started when I was nineteen, and I’m thirty-four now. I take pride in my work.”