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The woodman cometh.

Sometimes I wish we were Catholic," Ann used to say as I was rounding up the children to head for the woods.

"Why?"

"Then at least I'd have a Saint Christopher to protect the boys out there. You don't suppose the Pope would care if I lighted a candle, do you?"

"Don't worry," I'd say. "I'll keep an eye on them."

"I know you will," Ann would say, stepping into the pantry. "Now where did I put those emergency storm candles?"

For years and years the boys and I would drive into the forests and gather the family firewood. I'd get the proper permits, load up the chainsaw and hard hats and gloves, and then, one perfect fall day, we'd set off on what often turned into a small adventure. Thanks to poorly aimed trees, jumping chainsaws, logs rolling around if they had min of their own, and that special brand of poor judgment you find only in amateur loggers, we usually enjoyed a few more thrills than were probably necessary. Even though we usually managed to avoid sutures and major head injuries, and retained all the arms, legs, and fingers we'd started out with, Ann invariably greeted our return with a mixture of surprise and relief.

"Those Catholics really have something," she used to say after a quick health check. "And they're very clever-they've a saint for every occasion."

But Ann need worry no longer; I've given up logging. Why? Well, for one thing, the cheap labor has mostly grown up and moved away. For another, cutting, carrying, loading, and unloading three cords of firewood is a young man's occupation. Oh, if they'd pass a law that said only people of 50 or older can cut those dry snags standing close to the road on the uphill side, then I might go back to it. But the way it is for those of us about to join the Geritol and Suphose crowd, you need more muscles than brains to wrestle a tree uphill, split it, load it, unload it, and stack it. At least, that's my view.

Then there's the real possibility of death under a falling tamarack-no small consideration when you look at the mortality figures for professional loggers. And I'll confess right here that when it comes to aiming trees, I'm not the shot I used to brag I was. Besides, the closer I get to the Great Adventure, the less excited I become about dropping a tree on myself. I see headlines-"Local Psychologist Crushed by Tree." Call me chicken, but I don't jump and dive or zig and zag as quickly as I used to. Don't get me wrong: When my time comes, I want to take the Express, but preferably classic exit-like a heart attack while landing a a big trout.

Enter the Woodman.

The Woodman is a mysterious fellow. Never pushy, he comes only if asked. But once you've asked him into your life, he's very reliable and shows up each fall bearing cordwood piled high on an old pickup that looks as if it has been rolled down the side of a mountain. You shake his hand and find it, unlike your own, rough and calloused. His face is streaked with sweat from a day of hard, dangerous work. He smiles a lot. He talks a lot. He's been high in the hills all day listening to the roar of his saw and, company-hungry, wants conversation. This is good, because listening to him tell about his day in the woods is almost as good as having been there yourself.

You respect this man because he earns his bread with tested skills and good judgment, and because he is polite and hard-working and honest. So the last thing you'd want to do is embarrass yourself in front of such a seasoned professional.

But this didn't stop me.

"You're going to do it yourself?" asked Ann as I pulled the starter rope on my chainsaw preparatory to taking down a few little pines that had grown into a small inconvenience near the pigeon coop.

"I need the space to store the wood," I said. "Don't worry, I can still run a saw."

"If you hit the coop, you'll have a mess."

"The pigeons won't like it much either," I said, pulling the rope again.

"The Woodman will be here any minute-why don't you ask him to do it?"

(Women don't understand men. Ann provides me evidence of this universal truth almost daily. For example, among the males of our species it is a well-known fact that if one manly man asks another manly man to do something the first manly man should be able to do for himself-because he is a man-then someone is going to lose a ton of face. And it isn't going to be the guy doing the favor. No sir! The guy doing the favor may be polite on the outside, but inside he's snickering, and thinking things like "wimp" or "sissy" or maybe even the dreaded "pantywaist.")

"I can still handle a few little trees, " I said as the saw coughed to life-and just in time, since it drowned out a nasty remark that might have cost me a hot dinner and a warm bed.

As luck would have it, I laid the first tree right where I wanted it and-without even pausing to glory in the fact that the coop was still standing-began limbing and cutting it into shorts. As a result, and because I was wearing my earplugs, I didn't hear the Woodman arrive. (This is not unusual -you rarely hear or even see the Woodman until he is upon you.)

"Howdy!"

"Oh. Hi," I said, shutting off the saw. "Didn't hear you."

"Yeah, a lot of people say that. So where do you want it this year? On the deck again?"

"No. Over here by the pigeon coop-I've got a spot about ready. I just need to take down a few limbs first, and one more little tree."

"Okay, I'll back in and get the tailgate down."

I had prepared a spot for the firewood by laying some old 2 x 6s on the ground and needed only to limb up a couple of trees so that come winter I wouldn't be bumping into them and getting snow down my neck. And there was the last little tree to come down. So after restarting moved around behind the Woodman and his truck and reached up to trim off the low branches. This went fine. Then I came to the little pine standing in the middle of my future woodpile. A bit bigger around than my wrist, it couldn't have been 20 feet tall.

I leaned over and, not giving it a minute's thought, sawed it through. The sapling came down quickly-right on my head. My hat flipped into the air, and my glasses flew off my face, rendering me legally blind. I tried desperately to flip the tree off my shoulder, but the thing got a stranglehold on me. I stumbled backward through the slash pile I'd just made and, keeping the still-running saw at quarter arms to avoid lopping off any spare appendages, proceeded to lurch in a reverse direction until I slammed into the side of the coop. There, gratefully, I slowly sank to my knees.

I shut off the saw.

"I always kill the saw right away when one starts after me," said the Woodman. "It makes runnin' and fallin' a whole lot safer."

Thanks," I said, unable to see the expression on his face as I felt around on the ground for my glasses.

"You ever notice how it's the little ones that get you?" he said.

I found my glasses, stuck them on my nose, and studied his face. His smile was as broad as it was deep. And genuine.

"I'm not a real logger," I said, reaching for my hat and trying to regain my footing, my composure, and my pride all at the same time.

"I sort of figured that," he said, giving me a hand up.

"How so?" I asked.

He winked the way Death winks at you if you ask him how long you have left. "Real loggers never call me," he grinned, "if you know what I mean. "

I let go of his hand and straightened my jacket. "How about I help you stack that wood?"

"The price is the same," he replied, "but I'd be grateful. Now look at this, " he said, turning and handing me the first piece of tamarack. "I got you some real fine wood here."

Later I told Ann I was glad to have my logging days behind me. It was easy when I was young and strong and didn't have the sense God gave a goose, but now that I was older and wiser and had a more perfect understanding of the world and life and tree felling, I'd be content to call the Woodman each September, even if his arrival reminded me of a certain disquieting reality.

"Pretty embarrassing, huh?"

Embarrassing?" I said.

"I was watching from the bedroom window."

"You were?"

"I was. It was pretty funny, all right, but I'm glad you didn't hurt yourself. "

"He didn't grin, did he?" I asked. "I couldn't see his face without my glasses."

"No, he didn't grin."

"That's good," I said. "That's real good. We'll call him again next year."

And we will.
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Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:humor
Author:Quinnett, Paul
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jul 1, 1990
Words:1573
Previous Article:The Jentsch bequest: a gift that keeps giving.
Next Article:Charting a course for nonfederal forests.
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