This summer I walked behind John in the woods. I followed him as he followed the trail. “Flies are getting bad,” he’d grumble, reaching for the tobacco in his pocket. I quickened my step whenever John puffed on his pipe, trying to reach the smoke without clipping the backs of his old leather boots. Woodsmen like John know that smoke keeps bugs from coming ’round better than any bottle of DEET. You can spot a “flatlander” like me because I’m the one swatting. Locals call it the Adirondack wave. Some claim they don’t shower more than once a week in May and June when the bugs are at their worst. They’ve seen black flies hunt a person down just from the smell of their shampoo.

Every summer, John cleans up these trails around Blue Mountain Lake. Someone new and young carries the chainsaw and he does the sawing. Whenever we bump into a rotten log or snarled patch of branches, he stops and turns to me. I pass him the saw like a golf caddy handing over a club. I’m just glad to be close to the action. John is masterful with a chainsaw. He’s the opposite of me. I’ve tried, loaded down in personal protective equipment and using half my brainpower just to keep from cutting off my leg. John is singled minded. He starts the saw in mid-air. He doesn’t bother with chaps or safety glasses. No ear plugs, no gloves. Not even a chain brake. In just a few seconds he’s devised where and in what order to make his cuts. He knows whether to come up from the bottom or down from the top to avoid pinching the chain in the wood. He can tell exactly which way a log will roll or a branch will crack and on which side to stand to watch it fall. As he cuts, I think about how there are so many ways to be smart.

John knows things most people have forgotten or never learned. He can tell you which trees are used for baseball bats, which roots are best for guide boat bows, which mushrooms are tasty and which are poison. He warns me not to carve spruce siding after the August full moon, “or else the bark’ll never lay flat.” I’d carry a notebook if I thought he wouldn’t look at me funny.

“Good girl,” he grunts after the cutting is done and I kick pieces of tree trunk downhill and fling branches spear-like into the woods. I know a comment like that doesn’t belong in this decade, but neither does John: a man who lives in the same house where he was born, splits his firewood, hunts his meat, and minds his business. We carry on our routine.

“Boy, I’d like to cut that tree just to watch it fall,” John marvels as he cranes his neck at a towering maple near the lookout. We sit cross-legged and Blue Mountain and Eagle Lake rise and fall before our eyes. John rustles around in his canvas backpack and removes a tarnished silver thermos. He unscrews the top, which I see becomes a mug, fills it and sips. “You a coffee drinker?” he asks, holding the container out to me. He watches as my eyes move from his mouth to the mug and back again. “I don’t have any… diseases… or nothin.”

Even in late summer, our county had only seven confirmed cases of the virus, all of which were down south in the nursing home. A dozen thoughts pass through my head and tangle up like downed limbs after a storm. I take the mug from him, realizing it would be rude not to, knowing that John is already one of the most socially distant people on Earth. These days, so am I. “I like to treat my help good,” he laughs, and smiles when I take a sip. I smile too.

“Just crazy times,” he says, shaking his head as he stares out at the lake.

These are just crazy times, and there is so much I could say. But, I don’t say nothin, I just grunt like he does.

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