When I was a little girl my dad would come home from working in the woods smelling like saw mix and bar oil, sweat and sawdust. His cut-off Carhart jeans, frayed and skimming the laces of his Whites boots, might have looked funny to me if most of the other dads didn’t look the same. But we lived in a logging town and the men who didn’t work in the woods either drove log trucks or worked at the sawmills.
My dad worked hard to keep a roof over our little heads and food on the formica table. He got help from his parents or church ladies or neighbors to watch my sister and I while he worked. Our clothes rarely matched, our toys were few, and dinner was either from the cast iron skillet, the crock pot or a three compartment paper tray from the oven.
Some say we take from our childhoods only the memories that serve us. The ones that solidify and bolster the stories we wish to live into ourselves. My dad didn’t always work as a logger. He had several occupations while my sister and I were growing up. This version of him is how he will always be for me though. This section of life is my dad’s memory legacy, and I’m not sure he even knows it.
Isn’t that how it goes though?
We work diligently to accomplish our dreams, overcome adversity, reach our goals and become what we set out to become. The result is often that the thing, person, or dream we become isn’t nearly as impactful as the act of becoming.
My dad eventually stopped logging, but the mystique of the hardworking tree-scented man of the woods has stayed with me into adulthood.
Last spring, my husband and I purchased a piece of forested property that has been in his family for four generations. Our children will be the fifth generation to own the land. We spent all spring and summer clearing out old roads and exploring. Planning for the future, dreaming. Sweating. The older kids spent hours hacking away at fallen trees with hatchets or loppers while our toddler disassembled dead stumps filled with ant larvae.
In the evenings I’d sniff their dirty little heads and strip their filthy clothes off before I tucked them into bed. I’d catch whiff of chainsaw exhaust mixed with cedar and sweat. I’d pick pine needles out of their sweatshirts and remove tiny cones and rocks from their dirty pockets.
This age that they are all in, this time of wonder and magic, it’s the same age I was when I decided that my dad was forever and always a woodsman, a logger, a man of the forest.
My husband and I would sit next to each other eating our picnic lunch under trees older than both of our lifetimes together. We’d discuss the fungal root rot or the threat of beetles decimating a forest. We’d talk about the mushrooms we’ll find in the years to come and I’d notice the lines around his smiling eyes. I would sit and watch him sharpen each tooth on his chain, precisely, skillfully, like I had watched my dad do so many years before.
These are the legacy years of our lives and we’re still becoming who we will be.
When we’re in the woods, when my husband gets to leave his day-job business behind a desk, he comes home smelling of saw mix and bar oil. His hair smells like sunshine and sweat, pitch and sawdust. Our kids may very well freeze us in time as who we are now, right in the act of becoming our dreams.
Maybe, just maybe, our legacy is quite possibly in the becoming, not what we become.