16 Jan A Portrait of a Fifth-Generation Logging Brother

Aarin and Sean Dupuis are brothers from a family of fifth-generation loggers. For several months, they will be cutting trees below my house. Before sunrise, I see them drive by on their way to work, and sometimes even upon their return at night, before five o’clock. On Monday, I snow-shoed through four short rows of ancient, twisted apple trees confined as if in a room, which my neighbor Ramie refers to as the “Chekhov Orchard.” Just beyond this intimate fruit land, on the other side of a wall of poplars, I encountered the roaring engine of a skidder moving in reverse and echoed by a more distant, muffled chain saw. The engine turned off, Aarin Dupuis stepped out of the iron-grilled coach, and we made friendly introductions. I asked him if he would sit for a portrait after work, which, last night (Thursday), he did. But what I did not learn during our first meeting is that his brother Sean worked closely alongside him, and walked into my house, too, as if he were his older brother’s guardian angel, and indeed he was. Statistically, logging is the most dangerous job; both brothers were protectors for their brother Micah, who logged with them until he was struck and killed last year in a logging accident. Aarin gave his youngest brother CPR for nearly three hours, but Micah was already dead as soon as that tree fell.

Aarin is quite handsome, and given the clarity of his thoughts, self-confidence, and commitment to his family, I was surprised to learn that he was only twenty-eight. I was even more surprised by his upright composure, which he maintained steadily during the portrait sitting. A week before Thanksgiving, his mother – a Jehovah’s Witness – stopped by my house to share about her Kingdom Hall in Jacksonville, Vermont. I saw immediately how he had his mother’s sad and tender eyes. Furthermore, I was not prepared for the steadfast gaze that his loving eyes cast my way as I thrashed about with great intensity, carving out his portrait with charcoal and pastel. I was deeply moved by our unspoken communication, a silent rapport between a Forester and a flatlander artist.

Days before our scheduled meeting, I excitedly considered the blue-colored paper ground that I would use to make his portrait, in order to bring out Aarin’s orange helmet and ivory-black ear muffs, complete with antenna. Aarin talked adroitly and expertly about the business of forestry and felling trees. He answered my questions about protecting vernal pools, brooks, historic landmarks, and stone walls. He explained his meaning of “Basal Area,” which, for example, is cutting only 40% of the canopy fifty feet on either side of a brook. He continued, “We take extensive measures to protect young growth, and to ensure that only mature trees are cut. That huge red oak that you admired has a humongous top, which holds out sunlight for anything that grows underneath. By cutting, now you have a hole in the canopy, which is excellent for wildlife. It is like a deer magnet: they like to bed down in the cut hemlock tops, especially in winter. Deer follow the cutting path to eat the soft part of bud tips. And to think, we have this reputation of being tobacco-chewing, beer-drinking, bearded hillbillies that ravage and pillage forests!”

Their grandfather, Ovid (that’s two unrelated Ovids in two sequential blog posts), used to say, “A good skidder driver is a good cutter, and a good cutter makes a good driver.” Felling trees is completely determined by the path and maneuvering of the skidder. Aarin confirmed his grandfather’s words, “Good to keep sharp on both areas of cutting and pulling a cable.” Earlier, he had explained how in the woods, his brother’s life “is in my hands and mine is in his.” And all the while, his brother Sean sat on the sofa, watching and listening intently to my questions and scratchy drawing efforts. Blocked by my drawing board, I couldn’t directly see his face. However, I would periodically look over and around my work to see Sean still there, like an attentive bird or sentinel.

As we caught each other’s eyes I struggled to achieve a rightness of drawing around his right lid, and then suddenly I saw it; knocking a flicker of orange into the corner of his eye, the portrait was complete. For an hour and half, it felt like I had adopted two new brothers. Aarin concluded our session by plainly stating, “I hate to say it…I never know when I am coming home…I do everything I can to take good care of my boys.”