- Just in from the henhouse and garden with fresh eggs and a summer-plump tomato for a breakfast omelet, you use your sharpest knife to slice the tomato thin. You look up at the chickadee at the feeder out the window.
- Replacing lichened stones that have toppled from the rock wall running through the beech woods, you stumble and fall. Rock finger rock. A flesh and granite sandwich.
- You steady the pine log on the chopping block and raise the hatchet. The scented slices of kindling peel away like butter. The hatchet misses the mark.
- Carving a spoon from a fragrant cedar blank, you wonder, where would the knife go if it slipped?
- The barn door swings wide in the wind, then slams shut.
- You employ the sledge and wedge to separate gigantic rounds of hardwood into smaller logs that can then be addressed with an ax. One hand steadies the wedge, the other grips the sledge behind its iron head. You tap the wedge into a crack in the log until the wedge stands upright. Tap. Tap. Tap.
- The chainsaw gnaws at the maple trunk. First you make the face cut, the one that will guide the tree as it falls. Next you urge the blade into the back side of the tree, making space for the wedge you’ll insert to encourage the falling tree in the right direction. The blade hits a buried maple spile, left in the tree by mistake after a long-ago maple syrup season. The saw leaps back.
- The snowblower is clogged. Sigh. You disengage the clutch. You wait for the blades to stop turning. You can’t find the snowblower unclogging tool—what’s it called? Later you ask yourself: did you actually insert your mittened hand into the chute?
- You have two maple trees worth of wood to split. You rent a gas-powered splitter. Your right hand moves the lever that engages the machine’s iron wedge. The left hand steadies the log you have laid on the machine’s iron bed. There’s a soft groan as the wedge reaches the log, enters it, and begins to split it in two. Mesmerizing. You hear a sharp crack above the engine’s drone. You don’t know how it happened.
- A stone, a stick, a root, something, is caught in the tines of the garden tiller. The blades have stopped turning, the clutch is disengaged. You pull at the root, poke at the stone. You wipe at the black flies biting at your forehead, leaving a trail of dirt and blood. The machine leaps forward. Later you ask yourself: did you actually turn the motor off?
- The long iron pry bar lifts the boulder out of the hole; finally you’ve got your hands around the flinty beast. This driveway monster will scrape the bottom of your car no more. The pry bar leaps away. The boulder falls back down into its hole. Crush.
- You’ve set up saw horses to cut boards and repair the stall doors on the goat pen. Your right hand holds the circular saw. What is your left hand doing?
- You are installing fence posts using a manual fence post driver—an iron tube, closed on one end, open on the other, with metal handles welded to each side. Your partner slips the open end of the driver over the metal T-post while you steady the post with both hands. She raises the driver up as high as she can and slams it down, driving the post two inches deeper into the rocky ground. How can this possibly be dangerous?
- You are building a different fence, one with wooden posts. The first fence, with the metal posts and plastic netting, didn’t keep the deer out of your garden. You are attaching galvanized page wire to the fence posts using u-shaped staples, holding the staple in place with the index finger and thumb of one hand and hammering it into the wood with the other. You swing that hammer hard.
- At your first checkup, after the amputation, the surgeon unwraps your finger. “You should look,” she says, “so you know how to care for it.” So far, you haven’t looked. Now you look. Rough sobs rise from deep within you. “It’s okay to cry,” she says.
Gretchen Legler is a farmer, gardener, teacher, writer, and lover of the natural world. She is the author of numerous essays and three book length works of literary nonfiction, including most recently, Woodsqueer: Crafting a Sustainable Rural Life. She teaches creative writing and English at the University of Maine Farmington.