Sunday, August 15, 2010
The Day I Became a Lumberjack
The day I became a lumberjack was Saturday, August 14, 2010. As most of you readers know, I have been fairly intensely involved all year with clearing the bottom 2 acres of the land I purchased last November. Most recently has been clearing the actual house site and dappling in some selective logging in and behind the house site for lumber for the house. Up to this point I have had the help of various kind men-folk to cut down the large trees in preparation for the portable sawmill which will be arriving to cut the logs this week or next (I hope...) I have been familiarizing myself with the dangerous art of chainsaw operation for the past year, gradually increasing the size and severity of the cutting I do. When I decided that a very large black walnut which was in the site of the future orchard needed to come down- for the use of lumber and also so it wouldn't inhibit the growth of my future fruit- I decided I wanted to be the one who cut it. It was leaning downhill aimed for a clearing, so I thought it would be a safe first large tree to fell my own self. My trusty neighbor and friend Todd, who I figure can do pretty much any practical thing (and who is an Amercian Hero in his own right) came to assist me as a mentor. (He actually also cut down 2 other large white pine first for lumber for me). Todd hooked me up with his larger chainsaw and with some very good and safe practical instructions for felling the tree. He stopped for a moment to appreciate the tree before we got started, which is the type of the thing that makes him a true American Hero. He rigged some chains and a come along to the tree and the base of another nearby tree just in case the black walnut I was cutting started falling in a way that would damage a large nearby hickory we could redirect it.
I cut the notch in the front of the tree, getting used to Todd's big chainsaw and using heightened awareness to watch for any movement or sounds coming from the tree. After that, I went around to the back of the tree and cut from the back- opposite and parallel to the notch in the front. The saw was heavy and difficult for me to maneuver. Halfway through the process I almost stopped and asked Todd to take over because I had fear pulsing through my veins and sweat pouring from me. I was scared of the mass of the tree and the force with which it would fall. As soon as it started moving, I stepped back and watched it fall.
The sound was tremendous. It fell slowly, cracking loudly many times and finally crashing to the earth with the force of an army of grown male sasquatch. My eyes popped out and looked at the tree, then Todd and I finally said, "Holy shit." The placement of the drop was perfect, and I have my mentor and Jesus himself to thank for that. Not a leaf of the nearby hickory was touched. The only thing that was imperfect was that the base of the old boy walnut split pretty significantly for 6-ish feet- but I am hoping Carl (the sawmill man) can cut boards anyways from that section.
It was a big day for me. 10 years ago- hell, 5 years ago- hell, one year ago, I would have never imagined myself lumberjacking. Seriously. When did this happen? I was visiting with Susie and Todd and G.C. in G.C.'s tree-top shanty in the woods this evening and we were talking about me cutting down the big tree. All the clearing and cutting down of trees and brush burning is such a destructive phase of the house building and farm starting process. I could not do this forever- it is difficult emotionally and physically to cut down trees and thereby disturb (or arguably destroy) the section of forest I am working in. But on some level, it is deeply satisfying to be involved in a process where I am required to take full responsibility for all that goes in to building a home and living somewhere. The project is schooling me about what it means to live as a human the way we do here in these parts, and I am accountable for all the decisions the dictate what is done to and for the land here in this spot I am calling my own. It seems like stepping deeper into human-ness than I have been before.
For the record, I counted 38 rings in the cut tree. And that doesn't include the center where the bad split occurred. I am guessing the tree was close to 50 years old. Next time I go out there, I will cut the logs and get a clean cut and will be able to count all the rings. My mentor taught me that it is polite and respectful to abstain from using chainsaws and other motorized tools on Sundays- so I listen to him and didn't do it today. After all, he is a kick ass mentor...