I was wondering how it would feel. Actually…I was wondering how I would feel. I’d put over fifteen years of my life into this moment and although I didn’t know when it would finally arrive…here it stood looming before me.

I’ve covered thousands of acres of ground. Most of it quite steep and difficult. I’ve hiked thousands of miles with a pack on my back and a saw in my hands. The pack always laden with fuel, oil, water, tools, parts, first aid and a plethora of miscellaneous items. It has the distinctive smell of sawdust and sweat mixed with fuel and oil. I’ve cut down well over a million trees. I’ve planted hundreds of thousands of trees. I’ve marketed hundreds of thousands of board feet of high quality midwestern black walnut. I’ve nearly died so many times I’ve lost count. Crushed, smashed, stabbed, bent, hit, slashed, bloodied and knocked unconscious. I’ve cut timber on my tiptoes in crampons on icy slopes in blizzards while wind chills blew 40 degrees below zero. I’ve cut in snowshoes on three plus feet of snow for months in the rugged Loess hills of western Iowa. I’ve lost 5 lbs a day in brutal 110-degree summers with heat indexes nearing 120 degrees. Mud, rain, ice, and scorching sunshine…I’ve worked in it all. I’ve spent cumulative years away from my family on the road. It was a rarity to be anywhere near home for our anniversary, Valentine’s Day or my birthday. I’ve put machines on slopes they were never intended to be on let alone operated in any manner of safety. Everything in the name of conservation. I rarely ever saw another human and lived most days with the conversations racing in my own head. Many…well…most days ended up brutal by nature.

Working solo…there’s no other choice than to dominate every waking second.

The sunsets and sunrises though…absolute glory in every painting in the sky. I’m especially particular to silhouettes backed by shades of every color of the rainbow and glistening golden beams bursting through the clouds. I love seeing the leaves frozen in place in early winter amongst the creeks, ponds, and occasional hollows in tree stumps. I love the contrasting green moss in the middle of winter against the white snow and grey skies. The deer, turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, and every type of bird were always amazing when they don’t know you’re there and watching. The most amazing sight was the mountain lion. January 2010…Loess Hills State Forest. I watched it as it watched me for half an hour. Its tracks eerily mirrored mine in the snow the following morning. I loved seeing the countryside. Abandoned barns and houses always made me wonder what times were like 80 years ago and I enjoyed their presence. A hidden water well or two found deep in the woods being taken over by time always seemed a bit mystical.

There’s more…so much more. But for now, these were a few quick things I remembered.

I looked at the final tree.

I placed my final cuts.

It fell exactly where I needed it to.

I turned the saw off for the last time.