Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Beautiful Forest

Kind friend Dale Lincoln stops by the Skillin's Garden Log with yet another wonderful story that also makes us think...

Several years before my Dad took me trout fishing or deer hunting he took me to the woodlots. The forest was beautiful and I loved being there with him. His wood cutting tools were: A buck saw with a wooden frame; a double-bitted axe, and a 4-foot measuring stick. Each day his goal was to cut one cord of pulpwood for which he would receive $3.00. A fringe benefit allowed him to own one-half of the wood from the hardwood trees plus the tops and large branches of the softwood trees. That kept the wood stove heating at home.
When we arrived at the woodlot Dad would find his tools under a brush pile and go to work. Before cutting down each tree he would tell me where to stand and mention that a person needed to be very careful while working in the woods ---especially when felling a tree. “Strange things can happen when a tree is going down!”
After each tree was in a horizontal position, the limbs were removed with the axe. Then Dad would use the stick, measure four feet, and saw four-foot logs from the tree. (The measuring stick was also a “pry bar” that was used under a log to keep the log from binding his saw.) The firewood and pulpwood were stacked in separate piles. The woodpiles were arranged and a tote road was started to make it easy for a team of horses with a sled to travel near each woodpile.
The man-handling operations that occurred between the tree stump and the paper mill began very soon after the tree was cut into four-foot lengths: (1) Each stick was limbed and tossed near the woodpile. (2) The stick was picked up and put on the woodpile. (3) When the ground was frozen and the horses arrived, each stick was picked up and placed on the sled. (4) The horses moved the wood near a highway. Each stick was lifted from the sled and placed in a neat pile that sometimes became very large by the end of the winter. (5) At a future date the wood was neatly stacked on a truck. (6) The truck transported the wood to a siding at the railroad station where each stick was neatly piled on a railroad car and delivered to the paper mill. (7) I did not become familiar with the old wood handling operations at the paper mill but many people still remember and can add the remaining steps.
My first jobs in the forest products industry were placing small sticks of wood on the woodpiles, and placing brush in neat brush piles. My Dad was involved in a small “clear cutting operation.” He didn’t make much money but his woodpiles were neat, the very small trees survived, and the natural carpet of the forest floor was not damaged. In January, February and March, there was a special treat. If there was lots of snow on the ground the brush piles were torched. About two years later, in the summertime, Dad took me back to these woodlots. The woodpiles were gone. Jack firs and small hardwood trees were full of life, and we found an unlimited supply of wild raspberries. A few years later Dad took me deer hunting and we returned to these same “choppings.” The hiking on the tote road was soft and easy. The aroma of that healthy forest is unforgettable. Wildlife loved the place. Deer signs were everywhere. The forest was beautiful.
As a teenager I helped my Dad cut wood. I became skilled with using the double-bitted axe, bucksaw, and measuring stick. Removing the limbs from a tree that was in the horizontal position was my specialty. It was something like hitting a baseball. “The axe was my bat and the large limbs of the trees were baseballs. Removing the limb with one whack was a home run. Two whacks was a triple, Etc. Some large spruce limbs would strike me out!” When playing baseball a few years later I recognized the rewards of the arm strength and coordination that was gained from that training.
Family and other friends were generous upon my graduation from high school. In exchange for my photo and an invitation to the commencement exercises they gave me MONEY. The Graduation Ball was the last school activity for members of the Senior Class. Prior to attending my Graduation Ball I purchased a double-bitted axe and a metal –framed saw at the Perry Farmer’s Union Store. When the Graduation Ball ended at midnight I was healthy, alcohol (and drug) free, and alone. (At age17 that isn’t a bad way to end high school and start the rest of your life.) I drove my parents 38 Chrysler to my home, placed my graduation suit neatly on a hanger, and went to bed. Less than five hours later my new axe and saw were with me and I was cutting wood in a beautiful forest in Perry, Maine.
Since my first trips to the woodlots in the 1940’s many changes have occurred in the forest. A few years ago WLBZ Channel 2 of Bangor presented a documentary about the forest fires of 1947. I remember standing on a hill near my home and watching the billowing smoke on the southwest horizon at sunset. It was frightening to know that the fires were getting closer to eastern Washington County. A forest fire raged between Machias and Jonesboro. Until about twenty years ago dead trees from that fire could be seen from the main highway. It must be mentioned that the fire burned the forest but it did not kill the seeds. They were protected in the forest floor. When the rains finally arrived in October they became moist. An abundance of sunshine would also reach them. Little seedlings pushed the ashes aside as they started growing toward the sky. It is remarkable that about thirty years later, after the serious “Spruce Budworm epidemic,” of the 1970’s, one of the most healthy and beautiful forests in Washington County was between Machias and Jonesboro, Maine.
People that have spent time in a beautiful forest may encounter disappointments. Changes have occurred in the woods operations during the past sixty years. My first disappointment arrived in the 1950’s. The trees were cut on each side of my favorite trout stream. The evergreen brush was not removed from the brook. The brook became overheated in summer, trout became scarce, and the brook often dried up.
Modern wood harvesting operations usually make a mess of the forest. The mechanical wood harvesters and skidders do not have any respect for the forest floor. Every place that I visit after mechanical wood harvesting operations have taken place the area is a disaster area. More than two decades later it is not a happy place for man or beast. I join with those people who call it “shameful!” (NOTE: A visit to the Pottle Tree Farm in Perry, Maine (Year 1998) allowed me to find a bright spot in the dark clouds. In 1974 Jim and Sandra Pottle received Maine’s Outstanding Tree Farm Award. In 1997 Jim and Sandra Pottle were named Outstanding Forest Stewards. (Note: James Pottle passed away a few years ago but people are still welcome to visit Pottle's Tree Farm in Perry, Maine.

My skills with using an axe and buck saw slowly diminished. In the 1970's I purchased a chain saw. The last time I cut down a large tree was Monday morning, May 20, 2002. I was trying to beautify the forest near my home. The top of the poplar tree was dead but when the tree hit the horizontal position the butt of the tree came alive! It jumped! It kicked! It knocked me to the ground! About a week later I was still lame, and sore, but alive enough to remember my Dad saying; ”You have to be very careful when you are working in the woods!”
People should be very careful while working in the woods. (And everywhere.) Being careful may help us to live another day; have time to smell the roses, visit a beautiful forest, and thank God for it all.

Dale C. Lincoln
Perry, Maine
In Zephyrhills FL
November 26, 2008

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