Written by Mason Boring.
Mason is a SAWS Wilderness Ranger on the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee.
“That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Coker Creek native and all-around burley boy, Jacob reminds me of his frustration of us not bringing the chainsaw into Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness.
I heard him say “That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard” about nine times before we put the truck in Park at the trail head. I’d been hitting all the Wilderness talking points on our scouting trip the day before, but as we edge closer to the boundary, I dig deeper into my Wilderness defense arsenal and offer my heaviest hitters to this kid. “Yeah but the crosscut is an American legacy, dude! The Wilderness is yours! America was built with this tool. It’s the wildest land we have left. Wilderness is an economic engine. It doesn’t need us, we need it!” and on and on. I’m batting well over 500 on my Wilderness conversion record, but still, he and his brawny build aren’t budging. With my every rebuttal, “I still think it’s dumb we can’t use a chainsaw back here.”
As the chill of dawn leaves our backs, we ease across the Wilderness boundary line. For whatever reason I always yell, “Wilderness baby!”. I’m not sure why, but it’s become a catchy tradition here on the Tellico with every step over. Our steep descent into the Slickrock valley begins via Stiff Knee trail.
Youth Conservation Core employee, Cayla Miller barks over at Jacob, “Just remember, every step we take down, we’re gonna take back up and it’s gonna be a lot hotter on the way out too.”
“Thanks pal.” Jacob sarcastically mumbles.
My crew for the day had never worked in Wilderness and had no previous experience with traditional tools. As we approach our first blowdown blocking the trail, I had the pleasure of getting giddy. The gang gears up. I give the ins and outs while they unsheath our reclaimed, 90 something year old, 6 foot bucking saw. After deciding which compound cut to start, we lay her out across the red maple. Jacob’s on the other end. “Pulling” he says. We get about a third of the way through.
“Feeling good?” I ask.
“Feeling good.” he says. We keep going and find our rhythm. Our saw begins to sing.
“Guess that’s her way of telling us we’re doing it right.” I laughed, while Jacob held back a smile,
“I think you’re right.” We finished our cut and 21 more after that.
The next day as I was headed out the door, Jacob yelled over “Hold up, Mase!”. I threw my pack in the truck and turned around. “Hey, I gotta tell you something...that work we did yesterday, I’ll be honest, that was some of the coolest stuff I’ve ever done. Thanks bud.”
I pushed him and yelled, “I knew you’d come around dude!”
He reminded me, “It wasn’t anything you said in particular. It was just being there.” We high-fived as I pulled out of the station. I glanced in the rearview mirror and see Jacob’s beard hiding his hands around his mouth to hear a booming, “Wilderness baby!!” I stuck a raised fist out the window stoked from our exchange.
I’m reminded of Edward Abbey’s quote, “The idea of Wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” The Wilderness experience sells itself far better than any clichés I can offer. Wilderness uses no words to win folks over. It doesn’t take sides or point fingers. It doesn’t beat its chest or crave attention. Its existence alone allows for experience. Experience conceives believers and believers yield defenders. And today, it’s charmed another.