Trail cutting with children 101 or 7 ways to keep your head around children with sharp tools

Today is a PD day and it also happens to be a gorgeous, sunny November day (how often does that happen?), so we will spend much of the day on our land with the boys. Lately when we’re on the land we are usually doing one thing: cutting trail. The open, previously farmed, part of the land has largely been “reclaimed” by us over the past six months or so. We now have well established pathways where we need them (for the most part), have resited some fencing, have cut back loads of raspberry canes in need of renewal and are getting ready to dig new vegetable beds for the spring. Lots to be done, but it’s feeling more manageable now, and we really feel that we know it.

The other part of our land, beyond our pond, is largely made up of woods and is still a bit of a mystery to us in large part. Woods that are full of thorny shrubs and trees that just love to snag on clothing and jab you as you walk past. Running through the middle of these woods is a stream. The western slope of land that borders the woods is where bees used to be kept and a scraggly, unkempt orchard of crab apple and other apple trees now stands (another project!). Over time we have discovered some natural pathways through these woods, pathways made by deer and other animals, and we’re got a plan for clearing these in a circuit that will describe a wobbly arc around the wooded area of our land. What we want to end up with is a trail, just wide enough for hiking, exploring, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing and even cycling.

We’re about one third into this project, and can actually see progress, which always feels good in something as big as this. We figure we can continue to do trail cutting (or at least trimming back) after it snows, but we’re trying to get as much done as we can before the ground is covered this season. It’s one of the best jobs that we have, according to our boys. A reason to wield clippers, saws and cutters? Sign us up!

That enthusiasm is wonderful, as the boys are usually game to settle in for a session of trail cutting (more to the point: our youngest is ALWAYS game, while the older self described outdoorsman sometimes needs to be convinced, like afterschool when he’d rather chill and read a book; once we get him out there, however, he usually admits that he doesn’t know why he was reluctant to get going!). That enthusiasm also needs to be harnessed, of course, as we’re talking sharp tools and enthusiasm – together, in combination. Did I say sharp tools AND enthusiasm?

Everyone still has their limbs, fingers and important facial features, I’m happy to report, though if you were to find yourself anywhere nearby when we were at this work, you’d hear some dialogue that includes: “whoa, watch it!”, “ouch!” or “keep out of the way!” Our seven year old just absolutely loves to come briskly down the trail brandishing a young tree that has just been cut down, its length easily triple his own, and good luck to you if you’re in the way.

Now, before you get the idea that we take it all on the chin and have scant understanding of safety measures, let me tell you how we approach this shared family task:

1. Hot chocolate and appealing snacks are essential. When we’re back in the woods for this task we are quite a hike from the new house or the berry shack (our only base until the house took form, and essentially a toolshed with an adjacent firepit).

2. Large distances between family members are non-negotiable unless two people need to be sawing something or looking at something together. These distances do fluctuate and require fairly constant monitoring by the parents, but it’s a system that avoids quite a lot of trouble. Not all, but quite a lot.

3. The youngest family members need time to use their tool of choice, even if they don’t use it as handily as some of the more experienced members. Even if someone, like, just say, Dad, is practically at the point of tears because he’d really like to use his best handsaw before it gets dark (oh, I jest)! (May I add that it helps that Mum – that’s me, in case you were wondering – has no particular attachment to any tools or about which task she is assigned on any given day…)

4. Further to point 3, above, multiples of the same tool are really ideal, but as funds are limited, we’re getting there by degrees. Don’t think that isn’t on the agenda, though.

5. At some point, the children will completely deviate from the agreed path and start clearing or exploring somewhere else. They will come back, but this isn’t really a problem. In fact, sometimes it is to be welcomed.

6. We try our very best to stop BEFORE there are signs of fatigue, squabbling, hunger or just general weariness. That’s a “try”, mind you; as with point 2 above, it avoids a lot of trouble, but not quite all trouble. Thankfully, it usually ends quite well, and most of us accept that the youngest will suddenly develop an inability to carry tools back at the end of the session. Still not sure what brings on this strange condition, but we recognize it…

7. Hot chocolate and appealing snacks are essential. (Am I repeating myself? No – this point is so important that it really is two points.)

I’d better go make that hot chocolate…

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