The Paul Bunyans and Me

Sometimes you get the chance to draw near to your family history and often in the most unexpected ways. Yesterday I watched a tree trimming crew dispatch some overgrown pine trees from a neighbor’s yard.

A piece of large-scale logging equipment on display near Snowshoe, WV.

As the cutter scaled the approximately 40-foot tree and removed limbs as he went, I was reminded that my grandfather and uncles did this very type of work during their years as men of the forest. By trade they were loggers, harvesters of tree growth, but to say they were just lumberjacks who chopped down trees doesn’t even begin to do them justice.

The tree trimmer reached the top of the tree, supporting himself with a band around the trunk and sharp spiked boots, and secured with rope the very top of the tree, branches still intact. Still perched precariously he zipped through the trunk above him and his ground crew kept well back as the top fell to the earth with a crash. He descended and finally the bare trunk was ready to come down.

Making the connection…

I was never able to watch my grandfather or uncles at work, so my image of a logger’s work came in books, movies, family stories, and the occasional tree removal in the yard. Seeing this type of scaling firsthand helped to flesh out the stories of danger and hazard that they dealt with every day.

It also brought to mind their other accomplishments. Knowing forests are full of very tall plants and, considering that we farm by planting plants and harvesting them, you can begin to understand that logging is another form of farming. My grandfather knew more about forest life and tree ecology than I will ever hope to know. You can’t work in that environment for such a length of time without developing a clear understanding of your surroundings. Your life depends on it!

The harvesting of trees is only half of a lumberjack’s job. To harvest again in the future you have to replant and I believe the ratio is 7 trees planted for every 1 tree cut. To know how to fall a tree you must have knowledge of branch growth which can interfere with the fall and cause undue damage to you or other trees. Even then the forest is full of surprises and the best of men have lost their lives in this line of work.

Clear cutting an area is only one of many methods of harvesting; however, it is the most drastic with the most visual impact. That’s why it made the news so much in the late 1990’s when the politically correct trend was to be a tree worshipping environmentalist. Selective cutting is what you do if you want to continue to make an income from your stand of trees. A few trees, cut specifically, improve the health of the remaining trees.

By the way, woodland animals live in meadows and at the edge of the forest, not in deep, dark, densely packed old-growth stands. They need vitamin-D, too – just to knock another myth in the head while I’m on the subject.

Hat’s off…

History is like that. Sometimes you unexpectedly come across a connection to the past. You begin to better understand what happened during an important historical event or your own family history.

I’m glad I got the chance to see the kind of work my grandfather did. Thanks grandpa (and to all the other Paul Bunyans out there) for surviving all the injuries and near-death crisis inherent in your work. I wish I could have said it while you were still present to hear it.

– Amanda Stiver

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