Lumber Jills and new skills


It wouldn’t be quite accurate to call our place Little House in the Big Woods, because using “big” to describe less than two acres doesn’t seem quite right, even if we do have hundreds of trees. Sadly, a certain number of them are dead on their feet, or roots. Over the last dozen years many ash trees have fallen, and as we headed into winter last year many more were threatening to follow their example.

If they were willing to fall in the forest, then we could just sit cozy and speculate about whether they would make a sound if no one was around to hear.*

On the other hand, if they fell closer to the house, there was always the chance that their fall would have more than philosophical consequences. Many years ago an ash tree fell and flattened our station wagon, resulting in both a dramatic scene and an abrupt need to start shopping for a car, which activity contends for a top spot on our “least appealing jobs” list.

As we prepared for another stint in Spain last winter, we decided that the time had come to take some action to prevent one of those dead giants from falling on either the barn or the house. El Guapo has done the lumberjacking we’ve needed for the last few decades, but we felt that being only somewhat confident about his ability to drop a tree where he wants it to fall is not quite confident enough. We decided to look to the professionals.

The team we eventually hired consisted of a nice man named Tim and two helpers, one of whom was a tall Swedish woman. She was my first sight of a Lumber Jill.


Yes, I know we’ve been in the 21st century for 16 years already, but I’m still occasionally surprised to see a woman doing a job that has historically been associated with men. I was curious about this Swedish woman, and wanted to ask her questions about how she chose her current profession, but I didn’t want to interrupt–she was here to do a job, after all, which involved chain saws and chippers and giant claws lifting trees into trucks. I didn’t end up talking to her much beyond telling her the way to the bathroom, and asking if she’d like a cookie.


Somehow I doubt she grew up ambitious to cut down trees.† It made me wonder about changing plans, and about learning new skills. There are millions of people throughout the world who thought at one point that they’d be doing one thing, and now find themselves doing another.

I’m a big believer in the importance of lifelong learning and our ability to forge new paths. Once upon a time it was assumed that your life would be set on a course, professional or otherwise, you’d be strapped in tightly, and off you’d go. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case any more.◊

Certainly there are challenges if you want to revise, retool, re-imagine; old dogs can have difficulty learning new tricks, from what I hear. But I’m much more inclined toward Napoleon Hill’s idea that, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” Here’s a 90-second reminder from Khan Academy which gets to me every time:



When you were young, did you dream of doing exactly what you’re doing now?


not in my backyard--this is a redwood that Fiddler photographed while living in CA.

Not in my backyard–these are California redwoods that Fiddler photographed; may they never meet a chainsaw.


*Here’s a philosophical discussion of that famous question, with a quantum twist.

†Though who’s to say? Not everyone’s career aspirations fit neatly into the ballerina, firefighter-type categories. Ninja has had some really strange ambitions, including wanting to be a bubble-wrap tester.

◊El Guapo was able to get untangled from his consulting straps, fitted for him at the Wharton School of Business, and now teaches music video production at Berklee-Valencia, so I know it can be done.

[Images: El Guapo, Fiddler]




4 thoughts on “Lumber Jills and new skills

  1. This is an interesting post. I think that, especially, our current generation finds themselves asking these questions. Either because the world taught us that we could (literally) be anything we wanted and we aren’t getting it, because of our access to information we have the ability to see all of the possibilities of the world or just as a byproduct of the advancement of society our roles are becoming less defined. The problem being, as debt increases and standard of living decreases, mobility drops as shown by the declining rates of mobility among the American public. Do you find yourself doing what you’d always dreamed of?

    • There are so many issues connected here, aren’t there? It’s easier than ever to find new things to learn, but the challenge of finding the time do work on that is still with us. So many people have access to interesting options, but many more are probably limited, feeling stuck.
      As for me, I have long had a desire to write, to communicate my thoughts to others that might find them interesting. Writing “Lori Notes” is helping me to do that; I feel very fortunate.

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