55 AND STILL ALIVE!
He was a logger and that says a lot right there! He visited us the weekend of the 4th of July. It just happened to be his on his 55th birthday and he brought his second youngest son along, one of six.
They had come with an offer to take away some of the grey pines that grow prolifically here at the ranch, a wild chaotic tree, I call ‘wanabe’ pine trees that grow fast with dozens of limbs akimbo, and are good for nothing we can use them for… no good for fence posts, or lumber, or firewood, and in wildfires they can make a torch over 100 feet high. When grown they can shatter spontaneously, making them dangerous around buildings.
But Wayne had a logging business cutting and hauling them, carved out of grit, years of tree removal know-how and local business connections. He and his son, with minimal big equipment, are taking these trees to a local saw mill where they are chipped for pet litter to be sold in local stores. He bragged they get preferential treatment when they bring their logs to the small local sawmill. Because they are easily unloaded they can move up in the line ahead of the corporate big rigs and be quickly back on the road for another round. He had carefully figured his margins and felt he could make some money at it.
He was getting tired of climbing and goodness knows he done enough of it in years as a lumberjack. He didn’t mind sharing some of his stories as he sipped his coffee, and they were wild adventures. He looked at us with a toothless grin and a serious word, “‘Fact is in this business you need to be able to handle these trees that are tough and unpredictable to cut down and load without getting killed.” That was the truth of it. Not everyone can do that.
But he welcomed the challenge and he worked his equipment as hard as he did himself. His son pulled out his cell phone and showed me a picture of their 3/4 ton Ford pickup carrying a full two and half tons of logs. He drawled that people would stop and stare with disbelief as they went by. He laughed about one man letting his ice cream scoop fall to the ground as he watched with open jawed awe. Wasn’t hard to tell the son was proud of the Dad. He was a broad shouldered, husky lad who did the chipping for the operation, but would never be the man his dad was, his video game paunch was all ready well in place at 26.
I loved the story of their operation, full of initiative, small and intense, working with other folks locally and selling to the local merchants and local people, and I told them so. “This is what we need to make things work now at the community level”, I told him and added that I fully supported it. “ Well”, he drawled, “if I had the equipment I’d like to get bigger, but there are sharks out there, big ones believe me, and when you can’t control your own operation they’ll bite you”.
The stories rolled, abetted by his son, looking at his Dad with proud warm eyes. He was a partner in the business, and told us his Dad impressed on him the value of earning and managing his money. He had been paying his own rent at home since he was sixteen and let us know he was paid three years ahead!
The logger stood up to go, his frayed work shirt covered a body as lean and trim and buffed as a youth. He moved like a cat, every gesture sure, mastered. No doubt this man knew saws and trees and a whole lot about cutting them down but he was humble in his assessment. “I’m still learning and for sure I’ll never know it all.” Tough, responsible, proud, with room for growth and a twinkle of mischief… The American Spirit.
“Let me tell you about the time I worked for a man on redwood trees. He was trying to find out if I had the juevos for the job, seeing if I could take down the toughest tree he had right by a bunch of high voltage power lines. It was so high you had to climb up through the fog. So I set out and about 160 feet up there I hit the fog and couldn’t see a darn thing… much less the power lines.”
“I then I came up over it. Have your ever climbed above a cloud? Do you know what it’s like to do that?” he asked. We both nodded and smiled. We are pilots. He went on, his tanned lined face somehow softened… as he tried to put words to his experience… “That did it… I would do this forever… there were rainbows everywhere…I can’t tell you…” His voice trailed off.
Raw wonder shone from his pale blue eyes and one felt all the years of fresh air, and pitch and forest scents, and swaying trees and dangerous climbs. But the view from the top… the rainbows and the wonder of it…. the American Spirit, tough, honest, resilient, enterprising, willing to work with incredible will, and an open soul to know the wonder and beauty of this amazing land, this amazing world we live in. As we wrapped up the visit, I shook his hand and said both for his benefit and his son’s, “Wayne, you’ll be a legend in your own time! Happy birthday!”