Thursday, 14 March 2013

Riding Trees

Between January of 1967 and sometime in either late 1970 or early 1971 (memory fails me on the exact timing), I lived in Stave Falls. My father had purchase 27 acres of rough land out in the backwoods along the Dewdney Trunk Road, right along the border of Mission and Maple Ridge municipal districts. Back then this was truly rural; it might as well have been in another country it was so far from anything.

There were 12 children at home in these years, the combinations of my Dad's five boys with my Mom who was his first wife, my step-mother's 6 children from her first marriage, and their daughter, my half-sister. It was a crowded house with plenty of kids, constant noise, and about a million square miles of bush right out the back door. In those days the whole area was one big logging region, so there were both current logging operations and the remnants of old logging operations, constant reminders of what built the province of BC.

Our house was small, just under 1,000 square feet. We had six boys in the main bedroom, four girls in the attic, two girls in one small bedroom, and my Dad and step-Mother in the other small bedroom. We had a oil stove in the kitchen for cooking and heat in the winter, and we had a wood and coal furnace in the basement.

The oldest boys were the firewood cutters. As the second oldest, part of my regular chores was cutting down trees and cutting them up into firewood. We were supposed to do this in the summer, stacking the wood into the basement for use in the winter. That way it would have time to dry before we had to use it. We were not always successful in managing that timeline and many a winter's morning we would be up early trying to light a fire in that damnable furnace with green, wet wood, producing more smoke than heat and getting nothing but trouble for our efforts.

So we cut down trees. Most of the time we cut trees down with a bucksaw. I was only 12 or 13 at the time, and I was small for my age. My big brother was larger and stronger, so it was mostly he and I who did the heavy cutting. Sometimes we had a chainsaw. Sometimes it worked.

This was where the fun began. We would find a suitable tree for firewood. Then one of the younger boys, usually Peter or Jim, would climb the tree. Then, between Adam and me, one of us would stand on the chainsaw handle to hold it down while the other pulled the cord to start the saw. After a while as we grew bigger and stronger, or when we had a smaller chainsaw, it took only one of us to start the saw.

Once the saw was running, one of us would grab it and we would cut down the tree, boy on board and all. Then the boy in the tree would ride it down, holding on for dear life as it crashed down, jumping at the last minute to avoid landing on other trees or in the brush that almost always entangled the falling logs.

Sometimes we took the ride even further. We hooked up logs to the tractor, or to some old car my Dad bought cheap. Then we rode the logs in as the tractor, truck, car or whatever, towed them out of the back pasture up to the barn. It was like skiing or surfing, only on the small alder logs that we towed behind the tractor.

I think that's where I learned that just because it was work didn't mean it couldn't be fun. It's also where I learned about consequences and the importance of meeting a timeline. Oh, and how to dance.


  1. "a log driver's waltz pleases girls completely"

  2. I've always loved and identified with that piece. I used to work at a mill on the Fraser River and part of my job was boom sorting, caulk boots and all.