Mastering a chainsaw

By: Rose Lundy

The auburn canoe paddle slips into the water and gently scrapes the soft bottom of Rice Creek. Then the wood emerges briefly, releasing droplets as it travels forward again for another stroke. My partner and I steer the canoe to the left to miss a sandbar and then to the right to avoid a reaching tree branch. We round a bend and come upon the rest of our group beached on the murky shore. Across the path is an enormous fallen tree — too low to the water for passengers to duck beneath. We pull our canoe to the side and get out too, swapping lifejackets for chainsaw personal protective equipment: kevlar chaps, leather gloves, and a hard hat with ear protection and a face mask. Then we grab the chainsaws and push our way toward the large tree snag across the water pathway.

Nine weeks ago, the idea of canoeing a local creek looking for snags to cut down would have intimidated me. I think of myself as a capable 22-year-old woman, but before I joined Conservation Corps I never had a reason to touch a chainsaw. Suddenly, during my second day on the job, I was using a socket wrench to loosen the bar nuts, using a file to sharpen the chain and cleaning the air filter with a brush, all before reassembling the intricate parts of the saw. We were felling trees by the end of the first week.

As a female, this introduction to power tools was incredibly overwhelming but also immediately empowering. I went from zero knowledge of how an engine works to a basic understanding of all the necessary cogs in the machine. After a thorough training, I gained a level of independence and competence with these power tools that I could not have imagined.

Throughout my time with Conservation Corps, there has been the unspoken expectation that anyone and everyone is capable of completing the assignments —  and that is an incredible atmosphere to be in. I have had the opportunity to work with different people, go to new places and try my hand at many different tasks. Perhaps “proficiency with chainsaws” won’t be the most compelling skill on my resume, but I have gained a sense of confidence and empowerment from these experiences that I wouldn’t trade for all the Microsoft Excel training in the world.