Yesterday the majority of the trails department, joined by the new Huts Field Supervisor James, completed or renewed their 3-year chain saw certification course at Andrew's home outside of Fryeburg, ME. This course provided us with safe practices and practical experience for a field skill that is crucial to building and maintaining our trail wood structures and backcountry sites.

The two-day course began with a cold but informative classroom component on Wednesday morning. I started to get a little nervous about keeping all this information straight, and I was reminded of how much can go wrong when operating such a powerful tool. As all wise and reasonable outdoors people do, however, we took a break inside for a hot lunch of mac & cheese (and broccoli and salsa and...). With fingers and toes thawed out, we were ready to move from theory to practice.

After starting the saw several times and practicing and understanding the brake component, I started to feel more at ease. Andrew had previously felled some trees on which we could start with the basics; he challenged us to reach back to physics class (uh-oh) to envision the tension and potential energy a log is under before bucking it to be split. Saws were passed around, parts we had previously discussed were referred back to, and we finished the day with a precursor to the next; with a lesson in felling theory and a helpful demo on a little tree, dramatically back-lit by the setting sun.

Day 2 involved more practice and introduced us to some of the finer points of felling; we had plunge cut target practice before bringing down our first trees and another hot lunch. By the end of the day we had each felled a couple trees, asked the questions that came up, and learned more than a few new things. For instance, I was struck by how much more comfortable I will be using the choke on any machine now that someone has taken the time to explain to me how it works and what it does on a chain saw. I have a lot more to learn, but I know that the course gave me the information and resources I need to use this helpful field tool with just the right balance of confidence and caution.

After conditioning for the winter in sub-freezing temperatures, benefiting from the knowledge and experience of our instructor, and enjoying a conclusive stroll down to the pond, the trails department is that much closer to being prepared for 2011.