“One of Us” is an occasional feature about lives in Maine.

Crowsneck Boutin pauses work and steps away from his project, raising a hand to eye level and slowly moving it through the air in front of him. With his intent stare, he has the look of a Jedi knight out of “Star Wars” using the Force to bend something to his will.

Boutin, 38 and a former professional cage fighter, is eyeing the interlacing weave of beech and birch saplings that he has been bending around posts all morning. He’s creating a wattle fence at a home in Waterboro, and he’s making sure the weave is tight and that the saplings are maintaining a horizontal line.

“I’m trying to achieve this balance of tension and straightness so that it has a good look to it but also has a strong being to it,” he says.

Wattle fencing is an ancient craft that involves weaving green, pliable saplings through thicker sapling posts, typically maple or poplar, that are pounded into the ground. It dates back to the Middle Ages and can be used as a barrier or for containment, but many of Boutin’s clients want the fences for their distinctive look and the way they blend into the natural landscape.


Born Nicholas Boutin, he grew up Down East on a remote farm in the unorganized township of Trescott, where he acquired the nickname Crow. “I’m from a road that’s called Crows Neck and I just happen to have crow-like tendencies, so the two merged together,” he says.

Crowsneck Boutin lifts a sapling from piles on the ground while building a wattle fence he built in Waterboro in May. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

As a teenager, he raked blueberries and harvested periwinkles to make money but also spent a lot of time in the woods, collecting balsam firs with his family for wreath-making. On his forages into the forest, he learned the traits of different tree species, and his grandfather eventually taught him the art of wattle fencing.

Boutin says he struggled through school. “I used to fight a lot. I used to protect all my friends,” he says. “I used to be that guy.” The fighting continued after school, landing him in jail numerous times for brawling. In his mid-20s, he decided to leave home to try to break the bad cycle. He landed in Portland. It was January, he was homeless and living on the waterfront in a sleeping bag he bought with the little money he had left.

His penchant for fighting eventually led him to the Choi Institute martial arts school, now in South Portland, where he credits instructor Jon Pinette with turning his life around. He started training with Pinette, who let him sleep on a mat in the fighting cage in exchange for cleaning the gym. He connected with the other athletes training at the gym and found a positive, supportive community. “I started clicking with all the guys, kept training there and started getting into shape, getting better,” he says. Eventually, he began competing in professional matches in the New England Fights league, where in 2014 fans voted him the mixed martial artist of the year.

His training at the Choi Institute serves him well for wattle fence building, he says, because the work is so physically demanding. As hard as building the fences can be, gathering the wood for them is even more arduous.

“One of the difficulties in making a fence is the harvest,” he says. “The harvest is harder than the fence. It’s more brutal.”


Crowsneck Boutin carries a bundle of saplings to his truck in a forest in Limington in April. Boutin harvests wood for his wattle fences on various tracts of land in western York County where landowners have granted him permission. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Each season brings its own challenges: Cold and snow in winter, rain and mud in spring, heat and ticks in summer. Boutin, who lives in Cape Porpoise, harvests birch, poplar, beech and maple saplings in western York County on tracts of land where landowners have granted him access.

On a blue-sky day last April, Boutin drove his well-worn red pickup truck with a license plate that reads “WATTLE” up a winding logging road on a mountain in Limington. Just before a steep hill, he stopped the truck, got out and grabbed supplies from the back seat. His equipment is simple – a short hand saw for cutting saplings and lengths of used lobster-trap rope to tie bundles together.

After taking a few swigs of water, he ventured into the surrounding woods, following no particular path or direction. He paused often, gazing up at saplings with a distant look in his eyes. Boutin says he often gets into “a zone” while harvesting, and today he is focused on finding saplings for posts. The post saplings have to be thick and very straight, with no knuckles or rot.

He found a stand of six saplings and started cutting them down, laying each one in the direction of his parked truck, now out of sight. Boutin says he came up with the idea of orienting the cut saplings toward the truck after he lost his way in the woods during a harvest a few years ago.

After two hours of hunting, cutting and hauling saplings back to the truck, he was drenched in sweat, had drained his water bottle and picked three ticks off his body. He tied together bundles of saplings, which he estimates weigh well over 100 pounds, hoisted them up to his shoulder like a weightlifter and slid them into the truck bed. Another harvest done.

Being alone in the woods is part of the attraction of the job for Boutin, despite the hard labor.

“There’s a lot of thinking you can do in here, and there’s a lot of space you have in here,” he says. “I’m almost purposely getting lost, trying to go as far in as I can.”

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