A PLACE in mind
By Bill Torrey
My family’s not native to Vermont. We didn’t
move here till 1767. Still, we fit right in making
a living from the fields and forest that lay on and
between its rugged, green hills.
In 1973, when I was 15, I bought my first
chainsaw. My best friend Art and I talked the
Chittenden County forester into letting us do
a small logging job in Williston. Luckily, I had
good safety training from my dad. A man of few
words, he told me to be careful. That was it. I did wear a hard
hat. I thought it made me look rugged.
Art and I loved working in the woods. We thought we had
found our life’s work, but my mom and Art’s parents were dead
set against it. They told us working in the woods was a sure way
to get killed or crippled. They convinced us to go to college, to
find a safer career.
Our choices constantly change our paths in life. But you’d
be a fool to think you’ve got it all under control. Sometimes a
pebble can roll and start an avalanche. Most people believe in
luck. Some believe in fate. I believe that providence doesn’t fire
any blank cartridges.
A pebble started rolling shortly after I’d graduated from high
school. My mom walked out to work in the garden on a clear,
bright summer morning. There was dew on the grass and as she
was walking down a slight incline, she slipped and fell. It wasn’t
a hard fall. She got up and continued on her way. But later that
afternoon, she started to feel sick. By evening, she was in agony.
My dad rushed her to the hospital. The doctors suspected the
fall might have loosened some blood clots, so for several days,
they treated her with blood thinners. But she got worse. The
doctors finally discovered that when she fell, she’d ruptured her
spleen. Now she needed emergency surgery. Because of all the
blood thinners, when they operated on my mom, she bled out
on the table.
She was 52 years old. The mother of six kids. And she was
A month later, Art and I were roommates at Vermont Technical
College in Randolph. At the end of the first semester, I received a
2. 9. Dean’s List Honors was 3.0. I tell you this because I want you to
know I didn’t flunk out. But I quit. I had to follow my heart to the
woods, because I knew the contentment I would find there would
outweigh any dangers that may lurk along the way. A dew-filled
morning wasn’t something to be avoided, but embraced.
Art and I enrolled in a vocational logging school in Maine.
Its students spent three months of the course in a Georgia-Pacific logging camp, cutting and skidding timber and getting
paid for how much they cut. When all was said and done, we’d
earned our tuition back.
Now most of our classmates didn’t set the bar very high. Hell,
A year or so after we had finished that course, Art and I were
back home in Vermont logging for a jobber up in Eden. I was
the cutter of the crew, and getting paid 80 cents a tree and all the
sawdust I could eat. Art was bunching the trees to the main skid
road with a bulldozer and getting 80 cents, too. We were aver-
aging 75 trees a day, and eating a picnic lunch each and every
one of them. True, there were times when the picnic was frozen
solid, and we were shaking like a dog passing a pinecone while
we were eating it, but life ain’t all romance.
Early one morning, Art and I were heading for work in my
Datsun B-210. We were just outside of Johnson on Route 100C,
when suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge Buick was skidding
sideways, downhill around the corner toward us. No time to
hit the brakes. No place to go because there were guardrails
on both sides, and this boat of a car was taking up the whole
goddamned road. There was an awful, crunching smash as we
T-boned the Buick’s passenger side. Then my little Datsun was
going backwards. We slammed into the guardrails, and then the
Buick drove us along them before my car finally spun free and
stopped. It was suddenly, ominously, eerily quiet.
I was wearing my seatbelt. I had made Art wear his, too.
We survived that wreck because I’d met Pete, and his advice
to buckle up had stuck with me. I’d met Pete because I went to
logging school instead of college. I chose to go to logging school
instead of college because one splendid summer morning, my
mom walked out to the garden and there was dew on the grass.
Bill Torrey survived 40 years of working in the forests of Vermont. He’s now beginning
a new adventure as an oral storyteller and writer.
“Bill and Levi Sharpening the Saw” by Kathleen Kolb