Behind My House

Behind my house growing up lived an old man in a doublewide. It was this funny sliver of property between us and the Meeks and his family had owned it, it seemed, since miners came for gold. He would chop wood; he supplied the firewood for most of the ridge; and that sliver was like a ribbon on a balloon. His land a huge platter filled with pine, fir and oaks. Packed like crayons back there. His father planted most of them and would brag to the ridge doctor that he had a special way to grow them so close together. The branches all mixed up. Old Man Barks, who we knew, had improved on his dad and doubled the growing speed; when asked how he’d say, Trees and snakes grow until they die. We couldn’t play back there. Barks wasn’t protective of his property, we could play in the creek, he worried we’d get caught by a falling tree. He didn’t cut one at a time. He’d set them off like dominoes. Come the end of the snows when it was cutting time—his cutting time—and he’d laid his silver drying tarps in the meadow, you’d hear the saw and the trees coming down pow pow pow pow pow all at once, the birds going up. By early fall he’d have everything split and corded and families would arrive all together, like visiting the capitol, browsing among the towers of wood for whichever cuts would fit their stove best. When I got older I asked to apprentice and Barks said no, everything he knew would die with him, he had no children, but when the snow finished I snuck back and found Barks in a little clearing. I watched him fire the chainsaw, hold the teeth screaming out. Like he wanted everyone on the ridge to hear. But he never lowered the blade. Didn’t make an ounce of sawdust. He laid the saw back down and pushed a trunk with two hands. Like a mouse on your ankle. And the tree went over, taking a bunch more with it pow pow pow pow pow pow.