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Burying the Hatchet in Maine

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"Hee-Yah!" I shout, hurling the tomahawk-shaped hatchet at the upended-log target 20 feet away.

"A hit," Herb Billings remarks. "Looks like you've done this before."

"A long time ago," I say, unable to hide my smile. Herb is the favorite in this event, at the annual "Hatchet Throw and Cross-Cut Saw Contest" in Sedgwick, Maine, where we live. There are about 30 people here on this crisp, clear morning in early fall, and things are about to roll.

Herb supplies us with our firewood and undoubtedly learned how to throw the hatchet at his father's knee. But I was trained up in those ways, too, so we shall see.

It helps, shouting. Bull Bull always roared out "Il Duce!" Bull Bull was the math teacher who taught us how to throw: Charlie, David, and me, ninth-graders away at boarding school during the second world war.

"Pitch it like a baseball," he would say. "Throw it through the target!" At first there were more splintered handles than hits, but after two weeks we were ready to start a team.

Herb retrieves the hatchet and hands it to me. "Three practice throws," he says, his left hand placed, Napoleon-like, between his green-and-black-checked wool shirt and his red suspenders. I pull down on the peak of my brown-tweed cap, discard my down vest, lift the hatchet above my right shoulder, and brace myself. "Eeee-yah!" I shout, as I bring my arm down in the throw. The hatchet ricochets off the log, splitting a piece from its side, before burying itself in the grass 10 feet beyond. I walk over to it, as nonchalantly as possible, my heart beating fast.

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