Common Cause

When we hear of quilting bees and barn raisings, we are mentally transported to colonial America, or perhaps a 1950’s sewing circle. That same spirit of camaraderie prevails today. Brothers, sisters, aunts, nephews, neighbors, friends, kids and dogs converged and helped clear the land for my sister-in-law’s new home.

It was one of the best parties I have gone to. There were family and friends I had not seen in a while to hug and exchange news with. There were the friends and relatives of my sister-in-law I only see at her house for Thanksgiving or family events. There were her old school chums, her soon-to-be neighbors, and in-laws of in-laws. There were golden labs, boisterous mixed breeds, and a steam machine of red hot dogs.

We all had a common cause. Little orange flags on wire stems marked a septic field in the midst of the forest, and a track through the snow indicated the future driveway. The septic field and a twenty-foot swath around the driveway had to be cleared of trees. It was a tall order. Well over one hundred trees had to be cut down, cut up, dragged and burned.

By nine thirty there were three bonfires, and three chainsaws buzzing non-stop.

Liz, commander in chief, was a relaxed overseer. Buckets of coffee, water and juices were available at a tented outpost along with donuts and homemade muffins. We worked, ate, chatted, ate, worked. One neighbor hauled hardwood logs as tall as she was. Every time I looked up, there she was, dragging a big log to the pile being saved for firewood. Trying to keep up with Emma became my mantra. Blue skies, soft air and festive spirits defined the day.

The softwood and branches went into the fire, hard wood was set aside for warming a home next winter. One in-law of an in-law was a showstopper. I am not sure I ever saw him pause, except to be sure the next tree he felled had a clear path. Wisely protected with chaps and hardhat he danced among us. We would pick away, dragging branches from downed trees and almost have a section clear, when this chainsaw master would take a few more down for us to remove and burn.

It was beautifully orchestrated, and in spite of the many people, we never got in each other’s way. If I picked a log a bit hard to handle, suddenly there were three pairs of arms helping to hoist it and toss it onto the pile. Just as suddenly they were gone, as we all went right back to work.

“Am I on fire?” someone would call, and we would brush sparks out of a hood, or off a back. A few minutes to grab water, and pause by the lunch wagon gave us a chance to admire those working in the woods. As the morning went on, the woods became field. It looked not unlike my images of Dante’s Inferno. Sweating, laboring workers could be glimpsed through billows of drifting smoke, and orange flames were the only color in the landscape of gray snow and wet dark-barked trees.

A quick glance at any face there made it clear we were not in hell, however. There was satisfaction, or a smile, on each and every one. And the smiles, while they were individual, filled the air with one big giant group smile.

What a great party.

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3 comments on “Common Cause

  1. First I want to say thank you again for your help with my “little” project. What a great job everyone did and you captured it all in your story. I guess that is why the sign coming into the state says “Maine, the way life should be”
    Thanks to all!!

  2. I to wish I could have been there to help. What a wonderful heartwarming gathering and blog. you are all an inspiration.

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