The Uptight Woodswoman

I, who cut off my sorrows
like a woodcutter,
should spend my life in the mountains.
Why do I still long
For the floating world?

—Akazome Emon from Women Poets of Japan by Kenneth Koch and Ikuko Atsumi

She chops wood so fast and hard that she finds oak, sycamore, beech, hemlock, white pine, red spruce, balsam fir, tamarack, yellow birch, and maple chips on the next block. When she is monthly (during her menstrual cycle) forced to leave her forest property for vittles and sundry domestic & personal supplies, she walks to town on an immaculately chipped footpath (of her own making) in her mighty steel-toed brown Danners, admiringly inhaling the hallmark aromas her labor produces: muscular spices overlaid with sharp fresh citrus tones. Despite her enthusiasm for woody scents, which help alleviate her cramps considerably, she is no clear-cutter: more an arborist borderline topiary master, trimming and pruning, thinning and caring, her land burly and bursting with life. She dislikes too many critters building homes in her trees, pooping up the holes and carrying on like ignoramuses woozy on fermented maple sap, thus she throws pocketknives and ice picks at birds if they chirp too loud, especially woodpeckers and flickers who mar the trunks with irritating unsightly holes, squirrels if they cluck too much, especially chipmunks who knick cave-like dwellings through the bark with their goofy buck teeth.

She only goes to town when desperate for tampons, liquor, and meat, three things she can’t grow herself. The copious roadside apple stands nauseate her; hanging baskets of red, white, and purple petunias on porches unleash her most pyromaniacal thoughts; she’s allergic to musty antique shops; and farmers markets, including those drum circles surrounded by waddling toddlers waving carrots around and white dreadlocked mandolin junkies that mark the entire festival’s perimeter with hideous patchouli, produce in her an urge to wipe out the town’s entire population in a futile but noble effort at eradicating the elite’s uninformed idealism rooted in oversimplified understandings of the benefits of privilege that manifests as an unflinching willingness to pay way too much for produce.

PMS’ing hard but already back home with a fresh burlap sack of discount meat, bulk noodles, female sanitary products, just enough oranges to fight off scurvy during impending winter, and three bottles of whiskey, once again over-polishing her pewter flask for its new fill until she can see her reflection in it: red plaid shirt snug under snappy black suspenders, short ginger hair flat-topped & trimmed immaculately around the ears (another use for the trusty pocketknife), chin & cheeks dotted freshly with Old Spice (even thought she needn’t shave there), bright healthy green eyes, scars particularly around the eyebrows where woodchips flick up and nick her because she’s too stubborn to wear goggles while chainsawing. Her eyebrows are notched like Vanilla Ice’s, but naturally due to manual labor which is cooler, she thinks. Her new paraffin candles will do her right this evening, dripping wax on her abdomen to relax her pained belly muscles in conjunction with flask-sips until she can stoke up her outdoor firepit which as you can imagine, is always a rager due to the stacks of firewood she accumulates. She realizes she’s living a different lumberjack cliché, out here on this hill on the cusp of planet earth’s demise, but believes her fantasy to be much less insidious, judgmental, and idiotic than the abysmal pastoral suburbanism that plagues her neighbors. When the world collapses she’ll have fire, while dorks on neighboring farms pointlessly fuss over saving their fancy chickens.

Fast forward ten years, and she’s still dreaming of an apocalypse that will bring the erudite dairy cows to their knees. But being an expert has become boring, and the woodswoman wants to do something she knows nothing about, gain new hands-on skills, and find relief from this paltry pocket of people who flame her bitterness which is deep down, about global warming. Her seclusion has resulted in a microscopic homesteading worldview and a narrow-mindedness only one step removed from those she critiques. Thus hanging up her well-oiled axe and chainsaw in the impeccable shed that she has for years maintained by blasting cans of Dust-Off over every surface, she departs on a new chipped path she’s dug over the past five years that mainlines (no pun intended) over the Green and White Mountains directly to the Maine coastline, where she can catch lobsters with rotten chickens and get preppy with swarthier survivalists.

As a fisherwoman, she won’t even know how to bait a hook, she won’t know how to match types of fish to bodies of water, and she won’t have a clue how to gut and de-bone stuff. She won’t know what a Barndoor Skate is until she sees that triangular, winged natural wonder with her own two eyes and learns that not all fish are shaped like torpedoes. Eating a lobster will be one of life’s mysteries, she won’t understand the nuance of tides, she will be a stranger to peg-legged boaters with glass eyes and eye patches. She doesn’t own slip-free boating shoes, she hasn’t experienced seasickness yet, and nothing says she will become proficient at netting mackerel should she be invited to fish for those shimmering schools. Talk about peer pressure, she thinks of the mackerel while folding up some flannels and jeans into a backpack, schools of fish relish sameness even more than humans. She worries the school of fish will enrage her as these people have, the fish relishing their sameness, but bucks up and decides she needs to continue to embrace awkwardness. Is assimilating for survival different from surrendering individual style in human pack mentality? She wonders while packing her toothbrush. Our desires to fit in belie our desires for comfort and fear of failure. The woodswoman has no qualms about failing, fails every time she hacks up a tree that didn’t need trimming, just a little cruelty mixed into her coded desire for upkeep. Fails every time she wakes up with a pinging hangover, wishing she had a girlfriend who liked to wear skirts and cosmetics but not knowing how to meet one in this farming state. She’ll embrace ship-shape culture with its knot-tying fans and perhaps will meet a foxy lady in navy attire.

Heading east to botch things royally, possibly to steer a boat into a maelstrom when the first waves disorient her, she feels as free as she did when she first occupied these woods and started her copse chop fest. Each arbored scent was new, she couldn’t splinter a log to save her life, and all of it had the whiff of an uphill battle. Expertise is for pussies. Leave it for the snooty fascists who think outlaws are those who refuse to compost. Off she goes on her new path, which will become derelict quickly with lack of maintenance, which is already becoming the loose relief road into the unknown, the woodswoman glowing and floating along, enjoying birdsong and chipmunks again like some fairy tale girl.

Trinie Dalton is author/curator of six books, and teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Forthcoming texts of hers can be found in monographs about Mark Grotjahn (Anton Kern Gallery); Chris Martin (Skira); Sam Falls (JRP Ringier); Cristina Toro (LaCa Gallery); Jessica Jackson Hutchins (CCAD Gallery); and Tannaz Farsi (Linfield College Gallery).

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