THAT DAY, either God or luck saved my life.
Yet, it may have been my own intuition. It took me years to understand that but what I knew that day was much, much less.
For intuition, dictionary.com gives: direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process.
I knew it was a fact that I had a shiny new chain saw with all the oil, fuel, files and wrenches a young man needed to call himself a faller. I knew it was true that I had gained chain saw and falling experience with the B.C. Forestry Service.
I had been looking for roughneck work in Ft. St. John on the drilling rigs but they weren’t hiring.
I knew the cold, it was the middle of winter with Christmas in spitting distance. Too cold to sleep outside at night.
My chain saw on my shoulder, I approached a contractor on an oil lease that was just being cleared. The whole lease was still covered with the big Aspens that grow in the Peace River country. Bulldozers were at work but the clearing had just started, so I was hired in a flash. The foreman pointed to a half dozen ‘leaners’ and said, “I fired the guy that made that mess yesterday. Go in there and see if you can clean it up.”
Without a word he turned and walked away. Without a word I grunted, picked up my saw and started wading through knee-deep snow towards the mess.
That mess was a half dozen mature Aspen trees laid-to-leaning in a jumbled thatch against trees that had not been touched by anyone’s saw. They were cut at the stump but still standing, leaning against other Aspens.
Clearly, he did the right thing in firing the kid who created that botch-up. Scantily aware of the danger I was in, I trudged up to the standing tree that seemed to be holding up most of the mess and looked straight up to determine which tree was going to fall which way. I did not want to be in the way of any of those trees I was going to bring crashing down. When it all started to happen, I wasn’t going to be able to run very fast in snow that deep.
All the mature Aspen trees in this hung-up cluster were about 150 high and weighed about a thousand pounds each. When a tree this heavy tips and comes down, it’s slow at first but as gravity grabs a hold of the length of it, it’s whumped to the ground in a fraction of a second, hard enough to make the ground tremble.
If I was to be caught underneath any one of those thousand-pound Aspens, the snow would not save me. In a fraction of a second, I would be whumped into the ground, planted.
I kept studying the upper branches.
Okay, if I cut this standing tree I’m next to, that leaner is going to go that way, which will leave that other leaner free to go that way and the third one will follow it that way and the fourth will keep on leaning where it is. Thumbs up? Okay.
Ten-four, when I fall the tree that was holding those ones up, I’m going to run to that spot and wait for those four to come down and hope to hell I don’t get planted. After that I will look after the other leaners.
I started my saw, revved through the warm up and bit into the undercut, long blond chips flecking the snow around my legs in wing patterns.
Undercut done, kick it out and start on the back cut. New chain on a new saw, it felt so good to see it cut so smoothly and voraciously. I was employed, I was making money. More long blond chips in wing patterns.
I stopped cutting for a moment. Unusual noises were coming from the tree tops. They were adjusting to a new lean. So much snow was falling off the branches, I couldn’t see what was going on up there. After I waited and could see, it didn’t make much difference, still a mess.
But I reconsidered. Hey, this is different. That leaner is going to go there, that one there and so on, not the same as what I had assessed before. Okay?
Still, I had no confidence in my guesses. Something told me, “When it starts to happen, don’t stand where you planned, stand over here.”
I finished the cut. After a timeless second all Hell broke loose. In a crashing and snapping of branches all five Aspens timbered down flat. I stood there in my intuitive thought spot hearing the mayhem but I couldn’t see anything. All the snow that had been in the branches surrounded me in a heavy mist.
As it settled I looked to where I had planned to run and stand the first time. There lay a thousand-pound Aspen. I would have been planted deep.
By now it was lunch time and I was really, really hungry. I had no words. After lunch, for the contractor, I still had no words.
I shouldered my saw, turned and walked off the lease.
Elon Newstrom is a Kamloops resident and sometime university student.