In mid-October, I watched a handsome young man prune and chop down overgrown trees in a neighbor’s yard. He worked alone for two days straight in a cold autumnal rain, hacking and sawing, sometimes elevated 30 feet in the air on a lift. After he had finished, I went out to compliment him and ask for his business card. 

When Dylan Renell handed it to me, he said, “I’ll be out of town for a while. I’m leaving this Saturday and heading to Florida to help clean up hurricane damage with FEMA. Actually, I might be gone six to nine months.”

“Would you send me reports about what it’s like?” I asked. “Sure thing,” the 26-year-old said. 

But Dylan never made it to Florida.  “My buddy and I actually got pulled over by FEMA when were were driving through North Carolina on our way to Florida. They wanted us to help finish cleanup there from Hurricane Florence,” he wrote. “We’re currently staying in Newport and working out on in Emerald Isle.” 

With winds in excess of 90 miles per hour, Hurricane Florence crashed onto the North Carolina shoreline in mid-September as a Category 1, causing 10 feet of storm surge. The  hurricane set rain records throughout the state, where some areas were inundated with three feet of water. More than 50 people died. Though shortly after blowing into North Carolina and being down-graded to a “tropical storm,” Florence caused devastating damage. 

“This will be my first time ever participating in a hurricane cleanup,” Dylan told me before he left. He wasn’t sure what to expect. Today he admits that the work is “a bit unusual” compared to what he normally does but  no more physically demanding than what he’s used to doing on a day-to-day basis in Maine. And, “Luckily we have the aid of log trucks with grapple cranes for picking up debris.”

“North Carolina doesn’t have the type of damage that comes to mind when you think of a hurricane,” Dylan wrote.  “Lots of trees with broken branches and some construction debris that people have hauled out of their houses to be picked up from the flooding.”  

But his days are long, starting at 5 AM, and he doesn’t get back to the camper he shares with his buddy until around 9 PM. “We have electricity and running water in our camper, but the work is absolutely exhausting and we don’t have much energy then, so we eat out all the time.”

What motivates a 20-something young man to leave home for what could be months of hard labor in unfamiliar turf? Dylan’s answer is simple: “I have always been fascinated by trees. As a kid, I would cut firewood to help heat my parent’s house in the winter. From there I started picking up small jobs for friends or family, and it’s been snowballing since.” 

It’s no surprise that woodworking is now his main hobby. He says, “What I like most about trees is that there are so many uses for the wood once you cut them down. Back home, I have a workshop where I make dining room tables, wooden signs, wedding gifts and anything else I brainstorm up!”

Dylan admits to being “excited to be down here working. I have loved operating any type of machinery from a young age, and this will be the first time I actually drive one of these massive log trucks for work.” 

His next destination is the Florida Panhandle. Stay tuned for future reports.