And Now For Our Next Trick


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The table saw’s blade spins vertically, and its sharp hum becomes white noise beyond my ear covers. Biting the wood, the saw’s tone pitches upwards, more insistent, serrating tight growth rings. This wood is hard and heavy. Pounding nails into scraps of it, Sam has called it “Krypton,” meaning the only material tough enough to defy Superman. We pried these two-by-six boards out of our dropped ceiling this winter and stored them for this purpose: building a chicken tractor.

Last week, we turned some of the ceiling boards into a snug duck house. It squats in the barnyard with its siding and roof salvaged from a lean-to that leaned 2015-04-26 17.05.17too much and fell off one end of our barn. I cover it with some discount paint, which turns out to look purple. Our adolescent ducks, whose final swim in our bathtub left our entire bathroom wet, peep-quack contentedly into their house at night, to be locked away from predators.

Tonight, we rip boards lengthwise into halves and thirds, trying to lighten what will be the chicken tractor frame. It must be big enough for 20+ chickens, strong enough not to fall apart, and light enough to move without a real tractor. We’re feeling good about the first two qualities; fingers are crossed for the latter.

I love building like this—salvaged and self-designed. Since the materials come with imperfections, our process feels forgiving, accepting of my minimal skills 2015-04-29 02.41.50and tool-wielding flaws. Slight deviations and minor mismatches aren’t necessarily my fault. From demolition comes a sturdy structure with a purpose. Building things seems like magic. I think of Jimmy, who fixed our farmhouse walls. He liked to brush off his hands with a flourish and say, grinning, “And now for my next trick.”

Now, it’s 10 pm. We have our storage-room-turned-workshop door flung open to the cool night, and the table saw parked near the door. The full moon dilutes the stars. When the saw winds to a stop between long cuts, and I lift my ear covers, I hear spring peepers and some pickerel frogs’ guttural croaks. Sawdust makes me cough, but I’m standing outside, catching eight and ten foot boards as Andrew pushes them across the saw, through the doorway, to me.

We rip a whole stack of boards, so a rhythm emerges. Andrew starts the saw, begins to slide a board into the blade. I square my feet, reach my hands to grasp the two narrower boards emerging towards me. Silent in the loudness, we balance the splitting board between us, matching our push and pull.

When one board is two, he switches off the saw. I roll one piece away from the slowing blade so he can grab it safely. I lift the other piece up, over the blade, and we stack it. It’s a slow dance, with the saw’s blur of danger and the steady moon, feeling my partner, so alive, through the dense wooden plank.

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