“Put on a fresh pot of tea”, my dad would always say, when this time of the day arose. We had been working hard since 7 a.m. this morning, and the hot sun wasn’t helping things one bit. On days where we had many hot days in a row, and the woods was dry, we would resort to bringing in the steel thermos, but on the rainy days, or days were it was sunny after a few days of rain, we would build a fire in a well cut area, and have a boil up.
There is something about a pot of tea made outside. Maybe it has something to do with the process of actually starting the fire and filling the old corn on the cob can with water that made the tea taste so good. Although drinking the hot tea from our trusty tin cups often burned our lips, to this day, I cannot recall a better tasting or enjoyable cup of tea.
At the beginning of the morning, when we first arrived at the site, we would gather birch rhyne, and hang it to dry in a tree that we weren’t planning on cutting that day. Since we always experienced heavy dew in this part of the country, the trees were often soaked with condensation from the night before. Once the birch rhyne was hung, Dad would gas up the chain saw, give the teeth of the chain a good sharpening, and we would commence with our work. We worked as a team back then, my dad cutting, felling and sawing the trees into 8 foot lengths, and me piling them into cords. This job was known as stump piling. We would line up two lengths of a tree parallel to each other. we would usually use a tree that was not suitable for pulpwood or use two old stumps that happened to be lined up correctly, and proceed to pile the 8 foot lengths of pulpwood horizontally across the two ‘stumps’. Each pile of pulpwood was measured in a cord. A cord of wood was four by four by eight feet long. At the end of the chainsaw, we attached a ‘Whip’ that, when combined with the length of the chainsaw, measured exactly four feet. We used this to ensure that the pulpwood was measured correctly. The next step was for the Tree Farmer operator to arrive in the Timber jack (or Tree Farmer) and hook the cables under the piles of pulpwood and haul them out to the landing to be loaded on the boom truck, then to the flatbed of the tractor trailer, and then on to the mill for sale. When trees were of perfect quality, they were cut into 16 or even 20 foot lengths, to be used for logs. We made the most money on logs.
The weather that summer was really hot. Most of the time, we used to leave home around 7 am, but due to the fact that by 2 O’clock, the sun was located almost directly overhead, the heat was often unbearable at this point. We decided that while the weather was this hot, we would leave at 5:00 a.m. rather than waiting until later.
The ride to and from the site was the worst part of the day. Since we worked so far back into the country, and the roads were so rough, we wore out several vehicles traveling to and from the site. In fact, we often rode up on the Dad’s Yamaha ATV Three Wheeler. I fondly remember how carefully he drove that trike, easily maneuvering in and around the many holes in the road, and I un-fondly remember how rough it was, sitting behind him on the old seat, whose leather was cracked, and on the nights when it rained, the sponge in the seat got really wet, causing my butt to get cold and wet by the time we arrived at the site. The ride was at least 26 miles, and between the ride, and the long walk from the landing to the site, this was the hardest part of our work day.
On this day, we were lucky enough to be in an area where the trees were fairly close together. This way, my dad could fall the trees close to our wood piles, and there would not be much of a carry to pile them up. My dad was an expert logger, having worked at this profession most of his life. He could easily fall an 80 foot spruce between many other trees, rarely hooking the trees together once. It was easy to determine who the inexperienced loggers were, as they tangled the spruces and firs together into tall knots. When dad did have a tangle, it was usually due to the wind changing midway between him cutting the tree, and it landing where he aimed it. Dad never worried about anything in the woods. If he had a tangle, he would simply access the situation, and then take action. I remember him choosing a tall skinny tree, cutting it into long pole, and pushing the tangled tree from the mess of limbs and other trees that held it captive.
We liked to eat around 10:30. This gave us a break between our breakfast and dinner. Since the work was so hard, this break was often warranted, and we appreciated each moment of rest. On this day, dad asked me to make the fire. The chain needed filing, and to have a little break, he chose to sharpen the chain.
Earlier that day, I noticed a tall dry wood in the next site that would be perfect for making ‘splits’. The dry wood was an old Fir tree that had been killed by an infestation of some sort of wood bug. The tree stood tall and bare, with its bark long gone, and its branches reaching out as if pointing to the heavens. I fired up our trusty Jonsared chainsaw and commenced to cut the tree. When it fell, large portions of the tree broke free and trusted outward, and I ducked as the once massive tree plowed to the ground. Cutting or ‘junking’ the tree up, I couldn’t help but notice how white and clean the inside of the tree was, and how I knew how quickly this dry tree would burn. Using the old axe we brought from home, the wood split easily, and in no time, I was back at the site, ready to make the fire. The birch rhyne was now dry, and reacted quickly when I introduced the flame from the lighter to it. Once the birch rhyne was burning, I carefully added the splits of dry wood, and watched as my masterpiece took shape. I then lodged two ‘Y’ sticks on either side of the fire, and using a long branch, I hung the corn on the cob can across the stick and over the fire. Filling the can with spring water from a nearby stream, and applying the trusty twig across the top of the can, I watched anxiously as the water boiled. When the water was hot and bubbling, I added the Red Rose teabags to the mix and watched as the clear water turned black. I used to wonder why we put the twig across the top of the can, and dad used to reply that it made the tea taste better, and keep bugs out as well.
The bugs were a way of life up here in the hills. I remember scraping handfuls of sand flies, or ‘no see ums’ as some people referred to them as, from my arms and around my neck. The flies were especially tedious on the hot days, and even worst on days after a hard rain. Some of the other loggers used fly dope, but I usually ended up getting this onto my hands, and eventually in my eyes. Dad used to tell me that putting up with the flies was the best way to deal with them. He said that often, if they didn’t think they were bothering you, they would leave you alone. Not sure how true this was, because I could never ignore them. I did, however, get used to spitting them out, because on occasion, the flies were so thick that they entered every orifice they could find, including your eyes, your nose, your ears, and of course, your mouth. When the flies were this thick, eating was more of a chore than a pleasure. One could only imagine how many bugs we ate, because every time we opened our mouths, these little buggers flew or crawled right in.
This summer, we also had to deal with another pest, one even worse than the sand flies or mosquitoes; we had to deal with an outbreak of the Spruce Budworm. The entire west coast was infested that summer, and the once green trees quickly turned to an ugly brown color, filled with the hanging cocoons of the worst infestation in over 20 years. When hatched, these bugs were cited as the one of the most destructive organisms in North America. The Forestry department used chemicals to kill the outbreak, and urged loggers to clear cut any areas that were infested the worst. At first, it was pretty gross walking through the woods, each branch of the once invulnerable spruce trees hanging with the ‘spider web like ‘cocoons; but we quickly got used to it, and eventually, we managed to cut out the heaviest infested woodlots. Luckily, the Forest Department acted quickly, and most of the infested pulpwood was still harvestable.
Once the tea was ready, I called dad over to the fire. He carefully laid the chainsaw under a shaded log, so it did not overheat, and he quickly gathered our lunches from the knapsacks we carried into the forest. We made seats for ourselves using a few dry branches, thrown over an old stump.
Dad was always such a great cook, and he always managed to have something special in the knapsack. On this day, he brought in some baking powder raisin buns. He said that the raisins would give us strength and energy, hopefully enough to deal with the heat and flies. We also had some sandwiches that he had made the night before, the ones with the leftover chicken that mom cooked. As we ate our food, we would chat about the day’s work we had done, what happened yesterday, or what we planned to do tomorrow. Working with my dad brought me so close to him, a closeness we still share to this day. After a good chat, a cup of tea, and some food, it was back to work.
It is now the end of the day for us. Today, we are quitting at 2:00. The sun has gotten too hot to work, and with both of us satisfied with the work we did, because despite the heat and the flies, we managed to cut our daily quota of four cords of pulpwood. We can happily set out for our walk to the landing, where the trike is parked. The ride home will be fairly enjoyable, mostly due to the wind that the trike will kick up. I think I will take the time to enjoy the beautiful countryside on the way home, never know when I will have to leave this place, and go to the city to live a different life.
Dad was so patient and professional; he made this otherwise difficult job so enjoyable. Each day of my life, I look back at our boil-ups, and our days in the country, cutting wood, chatting, riding to and from work on the old trike, and enjoying each other’s company. I think back to a time that was much simpler than it is today, one without the bustling traffic and impatient motorists, the shouting of sirens of ambulances and rescue vehicles that rush to and from accidents and hospitals, and without the rudeness of the city. I have those memories to keep me going. Thanks Dad.