Among the many new changes in my life, today was my first day cutting trees with my sweet man, George. I will work with him at least one day a week – until I quit or get fired. George is a forester from a long line of woodsmen. I’ve worked with him in the past, but always driving the skidder (pictured at left) – hitching and hauling the logs from the forest to the landing. Currently he is working on a Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP). This is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop and improve wildlife habitat. It’s a big project and he’s trying to get several plots finished before our vacation at the end of August. So that’s where I come in.
A couple weeks ago, George bought me a new saw (baby-size – 14″ bar, not a real saw as my son Erik says). I had to promise that I would wear a hard hat and ear protectors. I agreed. So, off we went at 7:30 this morning. Initially George said I would have to sit on the hood of the skidder. I refused. I said I would walk. He refused. He said the mountain is too steep, too far, it’s too hot and I would die before I reached the site. Today we are suffering from a heat advisory with a heat index of over 100 degrees. The hottest it’s been in 17 years. I was hoping he would give me the day off. But, no such luck. To get to the top of the mountain in this dreadful heat, he let me straddle him while balancing on the back of his seat and gripping the cage of the skidder. Not comfortable at all!! So this is how the first day began and ended……..
Cutting trees was no problem. It was the ride up the mountain that caused tears to run down my face before we even reached the site and again on the way down. It was actually worse on the way down. I thought I was going to throw up from fear. George tried to comfort me by saying, “I will let you get off before we go over the cliff.” BEFORE WE GO OVER THE CLIFF????? He wasn’t even kidding. It was just a poor choice of words. I finally asked him to stop and climbed down and said I would walk the rest of the way down the mountain – even though I was stiff, sore, exhausted and dizzy from the heat.
When we reached the top of the mountain this morning, I learned my first important lesson. Loggers should not wear flare-bottom pants. My pant leg caught and released the emergency brake on my way off the skidder. Before I could get off the skidder, it was rolling backward with no driver. George said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!”, like he was talking to a horse, and quickly jumped back on and repositioned the emergency brake so I could exit without being run over. Disaster averted. Phew!
He showed me how to add gas and oil to my new chainsaw and gave me a quick lesson in starting it. Then he said, “Okay. Go ahead, cut some trees.” I was shocked! He showed me how to start the saw – he gave me no instructions on cutting trees. “Uh, a little help here Mr. Lozier.” He obliged, gave me some tips, let me take some practice cuts and sent me off to start my new job. He left me quickly and I was on my own.
Other than the heat and being out of shape, things went well. I had a couple minor problems with the saw, but felt pretty comfortable cutting trees. My foo-foo, flowery-patterned gardening gloves were perfect. I gradually gained enough confidence to cut bigger and bigger trees. George was impressed. I accomplished a fair amount for my first day and we were heading home with a hitch of firewood. That’s when panic set in about the ride down the treacherous mountain. I was so hot and exhausted, I couldn’t even imagine walking. It was the choice of two evils and I quickly regretted my choice. When I climbed into the skidder to position myself on the back of George’s seat (careful to avoid the emergency brake), the whole seat shifted and seemed like it wasn’t even connected to the floor. It was like a free floating seat – scared the hell out of me!! Once we were moving, I saw a large rock in the road and knew the skidder couldn’t straddle or avoid it. And, of course, by running over it we would tilt toward the abyss on the south side of the mountain. George tried to reassure me by saying, “It’s going to be a little tippy here, but we won’t flip.” My heart was pounding. I felt sick. I knew if I was going to throw up, it would have to be down George’s neck or back. That’s when I saw a small flat area and said, “Stop. I want to get off.”
George let me out and I followed the dusty trail of the skidder down the mountain. In some places it was just dust over flat rocks and I could barely climb down without falling. It was so steep, I had to walk side-step, inch-by-inch to prevent myself from tumbling straight down the road. I couldn’t appreciate the beautiful views. I was traumatized! George stopped and pointed me to another, easier trail. It was flatter and shadier. I had no idea how much further I had to walk – but welcomed the easier terrain. I reached the landing quicker than I expected and was glad to have survived my first day in the forest. George and I had a long talk tonight about the way things would have to change before I could work on Sunrise Mountain again. I think we’ve reached an agreement. I didn’t quit and he didn’t fire me, so my logging days will continue. God help me!