A Sawyer’s Education

Max Williams brought his battery-powered chainsaw to Harmony Acres.

He knew he didn’t need it. In fact, he offered all his tools to the men’s workshop, whose leaders turned them all down. In the 20 years of the retirement community’s existence, almost every man arriving had made such offers. By now the shop had multiples of most tools, with no need – or room – for anything more.

So Max gave most of the tools in his basement to an appreciative shop teacher in a nearby junior high. But he kept a few favorites, including the chainsaw, which was of recent vintage, light enough that even a 74-year-old could manage it easily.

The Acres, as residents called it, was built on the edge of a flood-control reservoir. In the decades after World War Two, the state had diked several such areas to hold back heavy rainfalls, releasing water slowly to avoid flooding brooks in urban areas downstream.

Those “reservoirs” were, by design, dry most of the year. Heavy rains might create a network of small ponds, almost lakes, but those soon drained away, leaving a wide swath of woods and meadows that invited wildlife habitation. Volunteers – both men and women residents – built a series of trails through their reservoir/forest, with rudimentary bridges over areas most subject to flooding, and a dozen benches where walkers could take a break.

Because the forest patches continued to grow up willy-nilly, trees or large branches occasionally fell across trails; a little pruning was needed now and then. Max had never been a woodsman, or even a Boy Scout, but he joined the Trails Committee with gusto. His chainsaw would be exactly the tool needed for the autumn sprucing-up. And he learned, at his first meeting, that the committee was lopsidedly female, including several youngish-looking widows.

Widowed himself a decade ago, after a long and happy marriage, Max had never considered a second marriage, and wasn’t now interested in a serious romance. But some feminine companionship might be an unexpected bonus.

New England only rarely gets severely damaging hurricanes, but they had a pretty good one in late September that year: heavy winds and rain; some power outages, the TV weathermen reported. Two days later it turned mild and sunny; Max took his saw out to what they called the Blue Trail. There were indeed downed limbs; he spent two satisfying hours cleaning up, and looked forward to some reinforcing praise when the committee met a few days later.

To his shocked surprise he was instead excoriated. “You took down that dead pin oak!” exclaimed Muriel, one of the women he’d thought of inviting to dinner. Handsome, a bit of curl in bobbed white hair, a body that suggested purposeful exercise. “We don’t do that!”

“That was a favorite nesting tree for our hairy woodpecker!” insisted Anita, another attractive widow. Tall, grey ponytail. “Don’t you know?” demanded Harriett. Short, black, tight curls. “Chickadees and nuthatches use those old woodpecker cavities for nesting! And others prize them for grubs to eat!”

“I was just trimming!” Max protested. “No city park I know is infested with dead trees!”

“Infested?” demanded the Muriel woman. “Our woods aren’t a city park! You need to keep that fancy saw of yours close to the trail! If it isn’t a danger to people, leave it alone! The birds will thank us.”

It was a humiliating morning, but one with redeeming value. Muriel offered to go out on the trails with him to explain the appropriate limits of trimming.

And agreed to join him for dinner the next night.


First published in May, 2024 in The Cosmic Daffodil



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