Tag: family

Friday Fictioneers: Places at the table

PHOTO PROMPT – Copyright – Jan Wayne Fields
PHOTO PROMPT – Copyright – Jan Wayne Fields

He set four places at the table, same as he does every day. Bob doesn’t have much of an appetite these days, not since Bessie passed away. That was when things stopped making sense.

They say he has Dementia, but Bob doesn’t understand. It seems like yesterday his two boys and Bessie last joined him at the supper table, talking and laughing about the day’s events.

Bob waits for Bessie and the boys to join him again this evening. His homecare worker explained that all three are gone now, but Bob still sets the table, and still waits for them.



This is my entry into Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ Friday Fictioneers.

A Dangerous Day in November

Driving to work this morning, I had a great deal to be thankful for. First, I was seated in a warm truck, a great heater and lots of power under the hood…and I had a roof over my head to shield me from the sloppy snow and brisk wind we get here in Newfoundland, especially this time of year.

While driving in (an hour on the highway gives me lots of time to reminisce) I thought back to some twenty years ago, to a time when my life was much different than it is right now.

It was November 4, 1994, and boy, was it a cold day. Dad had just taken the Yamaha Trike (Three wheeled ATV) out of the shed and had it idling. It was so cold that morning, the exhaust smoke went straight up and seemed to freeze there. The ground was soaking wet from the hard rain we had the night before, and small snowflakes began to fall from the sky and then melt wherever they landed.

My family were far from wealthy, and although my dad and I had steady work, the pay wasn’t very good; because of this, we couldn’t afford the proper safety equipment that was required of the job. We would visit thrift stores and purchase second hand polyester pants. Dad liked those because they had a good stretch, and once our safety pads (Kevlar linings cut from second hand chainsaw pants) were sewed in, the pants were perfect for the hot summer days. They sucked once summer ended though.

We both pulled on our rain gear and got ready to go.

When the ATV was warmed up enough to move, we set out on our way to work. My dad always drove, and I sat on the back. The seat was cold as ice, but thanks to the long johns I had on, my ass didn’t freeze right away.

That morning, the sky clouded up real quick. In no time at all, the few clouds had moved in together and everything turned a dark grey. We could feel the temperature drop quickly as we pushed on through the rough gravel road that led to the cutting site.

There were a few other loggers heading to work at the same time, but they had the convenience of a truck to ride in. Dad and I thought about buying something, but with the roughness of the road, we knew nothing would last. The trike was the best and cheapest mode of travel…but was it ever cold!

Without the help of a windshield, and the fact than neither of us wore a helmet (you didn’t have to back then), there was nothing to shield our eyes from the pelleting rain. In fact, with the wind and the rain heading right into your eyes, it felt as if someone was shooting bullets at your face.

By the time we got to the landing (the site in which the machinery is used to load the pulpwood), we were soaked. It felt like my ass was froze to the seat. We removed our soaking wet rain gear and tucked it into a bag and headed to our cutting site.

You have to remember that this was late in the fall, and we were heading into early winter. At any given time, the rain would change to snow and then back to rain. This meant we got wet and cold at the same time.

We built a fire in the clearing and hung our rain gear so that it would dry. Once we had to stop for a break, it would be nice to have warm, dry clothes to wrap up in. My pants were already soaked, and combined with the wood sap that caked the legs of my pants, it was difficult to keep them up. Thank heavens for the suspenders (we called them ‘braces’).

We had to be very careful that morning. The underbrush got a good soaking the night before, and with a glaze of ice coating everything, it made for some difficult walking. As we headed for the bigger timber, the tuckamores beneath our feet grabbed at our pants legs, making it tiring just to walk.

We passed several cords of wood we had cut earlier in the week, making sure that they were as tightly packed as we had left them, and headed into the deep woods. Dad began to saw a large wedge into the towering fir tree (we first cut a wedge into the tree, and then sawed the other side of the tree, causing a ‘hinge-like’ action to fall the tree), and commenced to cut the tree down. Just then, a terrible wind blew, causing the tree to sway from the original area we aimed it, to a location directly behind us. Huge limbs quickly flipped the chainsaw into the air, and just ducking, my dad barely missed being be-headed by the huge trunk. Once the tree toppled in the forest, one of the limbs slapped me in the back of the head, and threw me some fifteen feet from where I stood.

When I got up, I never seen my dad anywhere. A few of the other cutters came to our rescue, and none of them could find my dad either. Turns out, the ground was slippery, and once he had ducked to miss the tree trunk, his feet came out from underneath him and he fell on his back. The long limbs that covered him also held him to the ground. Luckily, nobody was hurt. I offered my hand and hauled my dad from the wet moss in which he lay. He was real lucky. We both were.

As for all the work we did last week, we weren’t so lucky. The huge tree had fallen directly on top at least five piles of pulpwood, flattening them to the ground. At least two day’s work to fix what we had broken. This week wasn’t the most profitable, but we didn’t complain. We were lucky not to have gotten killed.

Going home that day wasn’t exactly fun either. Snow had fallen at the landing, covering the seat of the ATV. The snow had froze on the seat, and the wet foam that stuffed the seat had froze like a rock. You can imagine how nice it was, walking out through the wet brush, pants soaked, and then sitting on the frozen seat. Despite our rain gear, I didn’t think my ass would ever recover.

Too hot in here now; one thing I can say about this Toyota Tacoma….one hell of a heater! Life is Good!


My Uncle the Outlaw

You read about those guys all the time, they are always on the news, hell, they even make movies and write songs about them. Outlaws.

My Uncle Joe was one such outlaw. While he didn’t take to shooting anyone with a gun, he certainly lived outside the law, and while he may have broken a few (well maybe a lot) of laws, he didn’t hurt anyone and he was always a great provider to his seven kids and loving wife.

Joe’s name usually causes wildlife officers to break into a heavy sweat, and may just send a few of them into therapy, but he always had a good laugh doing what he loved most, and that was living the life he chose.

Joe liked to poach anything, rabbits, moose, and especially salmon, and he would share his catch with anyone who wanted a feed. He knew the best places to find salmon, both in season and not, and he always had a deep freeze filled with fresh moose and caribou.

Joe lived his life on the edge, partially due to a defective heart that caused him weekly, sometimes daily heart attacks, but he never let this stop him. He was born with particularly small veins, and they clogged from time to time, probably due to his smoking habit. His drinking probably didn’t help either.

I remember on one occasion, Joe had just returned from a hunt. Moose hunting season was about to take place in just two weeks, so I guess he decided to get his early. Someone from the community called the wildlife department to report a poaching incident, and they pointed out Joe as the culprit.

Living in a small community, and owning one of those police radio scanners, he found out early that they were coming for him. While he had a freezer, it was filled with meat from previous hunts in previous years, so he had no room for the moose he had just brought home. Knowing the police and wildlife officers were on the way to seize the moose he poached, and possibly lock him up, he stuffed the young moose in the attic, through a small door he had cut in the ceiling.

Just when all of the moose was hidden in the attic, a knock came on the door. It was two mounties and the game warden, armed with the usual handguns strapped to their side and a search warrant. As cocky as my uncle was, he not only invited them in, he also offered them a cup of tea and some hot molasses buns his wife had just baked.

You could say a lot about my Uncle Joe, but he was a friendly character for sure. The law enforcers refused the kindness of my poacher uncle and went straight through the house, searching in every nook and crack, looking for the moose.

When they finished their search, the officials ended up in the kitchen, standing in front of my uncle, and directly under the moose that was hidden in the attic. This was September, and it was hot, and in just a few moments, fresh blood from the moose began dripping from the attic, a few inches behind the officers. When my uncle noticed the dripping blood, he got so scared, he took a heart attack. Both the officers and the warden immediately reacted, carried Joe to the car, and rushed him to the Emergency ward at the hospital.

My other uncles then went to Joe’s house, and removed the moose from the attic, cleaned the house, and proceeded to pack the moose in freezer wrap and into their freezers for safe keeping. The officers returned the next day to resume their search, found nothing, apologized to both my Uncle and my Aunt, and sat and enjoyed the molasses buns they were offered the previous day. “We know you had moose here, we know you, you bugger” One of the officers said. My Uncle just laughed.

There was another time where Uncle Joe was out fishing in a popular salmon river in the area. The law states that you must have a salmon license, you must only use salmon flies, and you must release any salmon over a certain weight. Uncle Joe didn’t particularly care for those rules, so he made up his own rules.

Joe was on the river, wearing his hip waders and casting his salmon line out as far as he could. He had 20 lb test line on his reel, and a hook loaded with worms. He had a salmon license taped to his fishing hat, which was covered with various types of ‘legal’ salmon flies. Just as he hooked a beauty, an Atlantic salmon weighing over twenty pounds, he heard the game warden walking through the thick alders. My Uncle chose this particular fishing hole not only due to the amount of salmon he knew were here, but also due to the underbrush, tuckamores, and alders that act like an alarm for the keen ears of my uncle.

When he seen that the salmon was firmly hooked to his rod, he flicked the line towards the woods, letting go of the handle, and he watched the salmon, his worm filled hook, his two hundred dollar rod and even more expensive reel fly behind him and more importantly, behind the two oncoming game wardens. When they finally reached him, he had been sitting peacefully on the river bank, eating a sandwich and drinking a cup of water from the river. “We know you are here poaching, we know you well.” the wildlife officers said.  “prove it” said my uncle, as he offered them a bite to eat.

He got off again. Uncle Joe always took pride in fooling the game wardens, and he did it many times. In fact, he was never caught by any of them. He was like a Newfoundland version of the Dukes of Hazzard, and he was well known by everyone, including the game wardens in the area. Despite not being able to catch the man doing anything wrong, Uncle Joe considered the wardens good men, and even invited a few of them to parties he threw each year. A few of them went to the parties, and feasted on the moose they couldn’t catch him poaching.

He continued his outlaw ways throughout his life, and thousands of adventures and almost run-ins with the law later, he finally quit. He was snaring rabbits out of season in 2009 when he suffered a serious heart attack four miles from his home. He rode all the way home on his atv, while having a heart attack, crawled up the stairs to his home, and died at the feet of his wife. The community took this very hard as despite his outlaw ways, he was a great dad to his kids, a loving husband to his wife, a great uncle to me, and a very good provider of fresh meat, fish and anything else he could find that someone may have needed.

I spoke to a wildlife officer the other day, and I asked him if he remembered my Uncle Joe. The man began shaking uncontrollably. “That rascal, I chased him four miles down a woods road, on foot, while he carried a quarter of caribou on his shoulders. When I finally caught up to him, he was sitting on a rock, having a sandwich.” He said. “The bugger even offered me a piece, and it was caribou!” Sounds like my uncle.

tree fellers

Tree sap flew as the chain thrust its way through the rough, wet bark of the biggest fir tree in the area, and in minutes, the once majestic giant dropped to the ground. It took several cuts to get it to fall, but when it did, it hit its mark exactly. The loud thud could be heard for miles, and the sky opened as the limbs from this marvel of a tree crashed to the ground.

The next one was not as easy, as its branches were tangled together like hands in prayer. Several cuts had to be made to ensure the tree did not crash through the roof of the lunch shack, with its chimney blowing black smoke. We had to get this one done before lunch, and with the way this day was going, a hot cup of tea was the only thing on our minds. This tree took the work of three of the best in the crew, as they cut long poles and worked to aim the top of the tree away from the cabin. The wind was not on our side on this day, and as the towering giant made its way to the ground, the top of the tree sled towards the little warm up shack, knocking the step from its base.

Before we could eat, we had to remove all the branches from the road, and from the top of the now broken  step. The timber-jack operator steered  towards the cabin, hooked cables to the top of the tree and proceeded to free the damaged step from its grip. Four of the remaining crew members worked to fix the step, and in less than an hour, a tired and wet crew entered the cabin and ate lunch.

Those Newfoundland loggers were a hardy crew. Tree fellers, as they were sometimes referred to, worked through the driest months of the year, cutting trees, removing the limbs (limbing) or branches and then attaching the cables from a gigantic machine called a Timber-Jack to be hauled out to the road, to be loaded on a trailer and delivered to the local paper mill. The money was good, but the work was very hard. When a person retired from logging, there really wasn’t much he could do, as this life toiled at his muscles and bones throughout his life. Saying that, most of the loggers worked well into their late 60’s, so perhaps this wasn’t such a difficult profession after all.

The work was so hard that during the winter months, crew members bulked up by putting on as much weight as they could and still remain healthy. By the fall of the year, when they could no longer work in the wet cold weather autumn brought, much of the newly added body weight was no longer present. I remember coming out of the woods in late November, weighing roughly 135 lbs, but in the spring when we began working again, I weight anywhere from 175 to 200 lbs. By that fall, I was down to 135 or less again. This may not have been the healthy way to live, but beginning the year underweight often led to a crew member dropping off the crew far before the end of the season.

Most of the loggers were veterans at this job, having started working when they were nothing but kids. My uncle, who owned the operation, started working in the logging industry when he was just twelve years of age. My dad was not much older when he started, and neither were the other men. I admired their professionalism and their loyalty to their jobs, as they worked in the wet rainy weather and suffered the consequences of broken  bones and wounds when things went wrong. I was just a kid at  the time, the ripe age of seventeen, and anxious to learn all the tricks needed to fall trees as expertly as my uncles did.

The tea was extra strong today, but the added caffeine and hot water would give us the extra energy we needed to get through the day. Those days, the weather was cold and wet, and once your clothes got wet, the work got even harder.

The trail back to the landing was muddy and slick, and we had to watch our step as we climbed the hill where we stored our chainsaws. A quick filing of the chain, and we were ready to go again.

Frank, the timber-jack operator waited patiently for us to fell a few more trees, and once we had them limbed, he hooked up and dragged the long poles down the hill towards the landing for them to be sawed up in eight foot lengths and loaded up on the trailer. On this day we would lose a valuable member of the crew, as his tires slipped across the boggy trail, causing the giant machine to tumble over the steep hill. Frank was lucky the old timber jack still had its roll cage, which was the only barrier between the sharp tree stumps and the operator inside. When the colossal machine stopped rolling, the huge wheels spun freely pointed to the heavens, my uncle trapped beneath the big yellow giant. The crew of tired but anxious men rushed to his aid, and using several come-alongs and the tiny J-5, they worked to remove my uncle from the wreckage. Frank let out a loud yell, and then passed out from the intense pain he was suffering. His leg was crushed, and we feared that his back may have been broken as well.

I was amazed at how calm my father was. A man who hated the sight of blood stayed cool and collective, and this showed when he took charge of the situation. Using a makeshift stretcher, the men used what First-Aid training they had to rush Frank to safety, which was quite a distance from the scene of the accident. A two mile walk down the hill followed by a thirty mile ride in the back of a truck, and my uncle was in the safe hands of the oldest doctor in town, who praised the men who treated Frank’s wounds. We all waited patiently outside the doctor`s office, and any onlookers must have thought we were a crowd of hobos, with our sap filled clothing and muddy hands and faces.

The crew returned to the woods after a few hours at the hospital. We didn’t get paid when we did not work, and with the fright we all had, our equipment remained wherever they were when the accident occurred. We didn’t work long today, worried about our fellow crew member and half the day already wasted, we decided to head home.

The ride out today was a rough one. We worried about Frank, who was not only one of our crew, but also one of my favorite uncles. When we arrived home, his wife called to assure us that he had been doing as well as expected, and that he would be out of commission until the spring of the year.This was the life of a tree feller. It was not predictable, nor was it guaranteed, but it was our life, and we fought to keep this life.

We later got a call from the crew boss that if he could not find another Timber-Jack operator, the year would be over for us until he found one.

In this part of the province, hard workers were in abundance, and in the spring, an operator was found. A young man, whose reputation said that he was fearless, almost insane, and that he could climb or descend even a cliff and not shed an ounce of sweat. We were excited to return to work, and on Monday morning, we headed back to the wood lot where we worked.

The work got a lot harder that week, as the young driver arrived from each load much quicker than we were used to. Rushing in the woods this time of the year can lead to more injuries, so despite his constant hurrying us, we keep calm and worked in stride. A few of the younger crew members rushed to please the new operator, and they suffered the consequences. Attempting to run on slippery logs leads to injuries, and they proved this time after time. By the time we finished the week, we were without three more crew members.

I worked in this industry for twenty years. I have lived many adventures in the woods, and this life has given me material for a ton of books, and has given me experiences that most could only dream of.

My Uncle Colin, who owned the operation, called us to his office one day. He informed us that the local paper mill had decided to stop buying pulpwood from local contractors, and concentrate on rebuilding in another location. My family were loggers for as long as I could remember, and as long as my father could remember. Most members of the crew were in their late fifties and early sixties, and they worried about their futures. This news was not good for the community and their families.

Most of the men who worked in the woods, as fellers and as operators knew nothing else. Going back to school to retrain was not an option for them. As a result, most of them left the island for work in neighboring provinces and even in other countries. I was fortunate enough to be young enough to return to school and do something different with my life. The others were not as fortunate. My father worked a few small jobs, most of them demeaning, and eventually retired. Frank, too young to retire, but broken too badly from the accident all those years ago to work anywhere else, ended up on welfare. This was difficult for him, a man working at the same job since he was just fifteen, and now dependent on a government program that demeans a person. This was not fair, but it was a reality they had to live with.

I am in a very different line of work now, but I will always have the adventures and stories of the wonderful days I spent working with my father and with my uncles. I tell those stories to my son, and I hope he tells them to his sons when he is my age.