Logging, Continued

I woke up at 2 AM yesterday. I always get up early, but that seemed a bit extreme. My right knee aches. It’s bursitis or arthritis — some sort of itis, anyway. I took Ibuprofen but I knew the day might be shot. So often I feel I’m dancing on top of a rolling log jam of projects and only my lists keep me upright. When I’m too tired for lists, chaos generally ensues. Sure enough, yesterday was a bit ragged and I never got back to posting the photographs from Monday.

The last request made by the loggers, before they brought their big trucks in, was that I consent to taking out one of my apple trees. I have one big apple tree, which bears scabby fruit that drops to the waiting cows and horses in the pasture. There was another, smaller tree tucked in the woods along the driveway, right where the big trucks needed space to turn. I’d found that tree even before I was able to buy the property, and had cut out competing saplings to give it sun. This was a wild apple tree. Its scant fruit was hard and sour. Technically it was worthless. Nevertheless, I’d nurtured the small tree for almost ten years and admired its white blossoms… I looked at the four men standing around me, waiting, and realized I could hardly balk over one tree when I was arranging for them to butcher thousands. I didn’t think they would understand St. Exupery and that the tree was now, for me, “unique in all the world.”

“Go ahead,” I said to Allen. The tree was gone with one bite of the bucket.

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The loggers were clearly concerned about the job ahead — if it would be worth the company’s time. “We do like the trees to be bigger than the skidder,” one man joked. I kept apologizing for the the thin, weasley trees and the amount of blowdown. “No worries,” they said cheerfully. “We’ll find something.”

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Here is the feller-buncher heading out. The tires on this machine are almost as high as my head. A feller-buncher, as its name implies, fells trees and stacks them in bunches. You can often track the movement of the feller-buncher deep in the forest because you will see a treetop on the horizon begin to wobble and then wave above the canopy as the machine cuts it, picks it up, and carries it to a waiting pile. In the photo below, notice all the butts stacked on the right.

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John was running the feller-buncher. Before he started cutting, he and I had chosen a spot for DH’s cabin. It was hard to make judgments under time pressure, but I knew DH wouldn’t want it too far back, would want a view of the mountains, and would want some trees left to block the glaring lights of the Olympic bobsled run at night. John and I chose a spot with young trees that would be less likely to die and fall. (Balsams grown in a forest are so thinly rooted that when they are exposed to wind, they keel over dead, often in swathes.)

Then John handed me a roll of surveyor’s tape and asked me to mark the lot boundaries. Our property is surrounded on three sides by state land. The penalty for cutting on state land is a stiff fine, calculated per tree, and usually runs to many thousands of dollars. Though the property lines were blazed by a surveyor five years ago, half the blazed trees had fallen down. So I set off.

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My progress was not rapid. I was pushing through tangled branches and clambering over fallen dead trees. Everything was wet, and I was soon soaked to the skin. As I found the lines and tied ribbons of day-glow tape, I felt a million miles away from the farm.

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In many places I was following narrow twisty deer trails, pushing through the underbrush and scrubby balsam. Just before I’d set out I’d seen moose tracks in the sand by the gravel pit. Moose tracks are almost as big as my boot. I’m not typically afraid in the woods but I am afraid of moose. Especially bull moose in fall rutting season. My nervousness and the inability to follow a clear trail made me slightly claustrophobic. I was glad to finally burst back out of the woods into the open.

The skidder had arrived.

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A skidder is another prosaically named machine: it drags, or skids, trees out of the forest. It is amazing to see the skidder bouncing over fallen logs and ruts at high speed, dragging a half dozen trees in its big lobster claw.

A skidder is also useful on the job to push various stuck trucks and machines out of the mud. Below, the skidder is pushing the giant chipper into position. (The skidder was run by a young blond man whom the other men called OSHA. “O.S.H.A.?” I said. “That can’t really be his name.” “Oh, he’s Russian and his real name is too hard, so we all just call him OSHA.” When I asked the boy, he introduced himself shyly as Alexei.)

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None of our wood is of the quality or size for saw logs, so it would all be chipped. In Vermont there is a power plant partly fueled by wood chips. Our trees will be turning on the lights in Burlington.

The feller-buncher cuts the trees. The skidder carries them out of the forest. Then the log-loader stacks them in enormous piles, waiting for the arrival of the tractor trailers. Once the trailers are backed into place, the log-loader feeds the trees in bunches into the chipper. Here is the truck driver (with ear protection) sitting in a lawn chair under the log-loader, watching his trailer be filled with chips.

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Greg runs the log-loader. He is very skilled with the grapple.

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A close-up of the chips flying into the trailer. The speed is unbelievable and the noise incredible. An entire trailer will be loaded with fresh chips in under twenty minutes.

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The first heavily-laden truck lumbers up the driveway toward Vermont.

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The second pulls out past the barn.


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The speed of the job is limited by the number of trucks available to haul. We have only two. The power plant is two hours away. The goal is to send four loads a day. Once the trucks were on the road, the rest of the crew busied itself stacking mountains of trees ready to be chipped.

Meanwhile, Allen was working in the lower field. He cleaned out the far border, a mess of boulders and rotted logs.

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By the end of the day he was digging out and smoothing the bottom corner above the pond, which was a maze of rocky hills and gullies.

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I was following after Allen, pounding metal T-posts every 23-25 feet down the perimeter. By the end of the week, I hope to have this field fenced. Soon it will only be a matter of time and lime before it’s real pasture!

It’s hard to express how happy I am.

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