ON AND OFF BUTTONS


The chain saw was wedged in the bottom of the 40 inch diameter log.  DAMN!  This had to have been the fourth or fifth time we had to deal with a wedged saw today, and it was now late afternoon.  

Our crew of three—the fourth had to leave early to get back to town by 5—looked at the log, which was mostly cut through, but obviously not completely. I hadn’t been impressed by the top bind, but the sawyer thought there was some.  If the top part of a fallen log is compressed, such as being in the middle of two parts that are supported, so there is a slight sag, the wood on top will tend to compress and grab or bind a saw, keeping it from moving.  If the saw is deep enough in the log, we can pound a plastic wedge into the cut or kerf, allowing the saw more freedom to move. If the log is under tension, a cut will tend to open and release the tension. When the kerf was opening up earlier in the cutting, a rather than narrowing, it suggested bottom bind, not a top one, but I didn’t say anything. I wish I had, for I might have been able to prevent a wedged saw.

I’m relatively new out there, now past the “Stay (the &%$) out of the way!!” instructions, so I tend to be quiet.  That is a mistake in the woods, just as it is in the cockpit or an operating room.  People don’t like criticism or comments.  The culture isn’t what it ought to be.

The sawyer, I later learned, had an on button but no off button.  She was a dynamo, one of those I learned who would be happy to still be out here at 8 pm cutting. I didn’t feel the same way.  In addition to my pack, I was carrying a Pulaski, my hand saw, gloves, a pair of loppers, plastic blue diamonds to place on trees for markers of winter trails, nails, and a hammer.  I was tired, and it made me more cranky and prone to mistakes.  We were cutting out a mile or two of trail, not a lot, but we had several hundred yards to go to the road and then a 2 mile walk back to the vehicles. Then we had to drive another 90 miles home.  I doubt the other two in the crew had made that calculation.  I had been refining it the whole day. It is useful to me to know where I am time wise  and trail wise in the wilderness. It is not considered a virtue by most of the people whom I am around, but I tend to arrive at where I want to be about when I expect to, without surprises, and I like that.

I was the only crew member who had been previously been on this trail, both in winter snowshoeing and in summer trying to place diamond markers.  I had been so upset about  missing markers in winter that I said someone ought to be out here putting therm in, and “someone” turned out to be me.

In June, I walked the trail.  That is not easy, since winter trails do not need to be cleared the way all year trails do.  A couple of feet of snow will cover a lot of plants and many downed logs, so only the big logs or logs over the trail have to be taken out.  The trail does have to be wide enough to be seen in winter, and that was a big problem with Nickerson Loop. I had been stopped on another person’s snowshoe trip at a brushy field with no clear path. In June, there was still no clear path, just a lot more brush to walk through, but I worked my way through it from both ends and placed a few diamonds.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was better.

With the chain saw crew, I had a chance to get the trail open for people to travel the loop.  We had cleared some brush and cut out about a half dozen logs earlier, the saw’s being stuck several other times.  I was later told the sawyer was relatively new, and I realized the bar of her saw, the metal semi-elliptical protrusion on it, was not long enough for the logs we would be cutting;  I knew beforehand and had mentioned that we would have at least a 36 inch diameter log to cut out. 

Anyway, the saw was stuck, and without another chain saw to free it up, we had a problem.  The so-called “walk of shame” is when a sawyer leaves the bar in the log, removes the motor and comes back later with another bar and chain to cut the first bar out.  I had some wedges used to keep the kerf open, and I put one below the saw and tried to pound it in, hoping I could move something enough to free the saw.  No luck.  We started with a hand saw in the cut to try to open it a little.  No luck.

The sawyer then took a handsaw and began sawing the log for a second cut.  This log was 40 inches in diameter—a meter—and handsaws are good up to 6 inches, 8 on a good day. I told her that wasn’t going to work.  She had a Katana 650 one person hand saw back at the car (650 mm), and the other crew member asked me how far it was.  I figured two miles, and then to myself multiplied that by 2 (round trip) and divided by 3 (walking speed, maybe) to get the round trip time in hours, and realized he might not be back here until 4:30 or 5.  He stayed.

So for lack of anything better to do, I took my hand saw to the kerf above the bound saw and started cutting.  The wood was obviously hard, but I went at it for a few minutes, trying to make sawdust while ignoring how much wood was below the saw, and then heard a noise—a slight crack.  

Hope.

I cut a little more vigorously and heard a louder crack.  The log was talking to us.  I gave the saw to another crew member, since he was stronger and I was tired, and within thirty seconds of his sawing, there was a large crack, the log started to fall, and the chain saw was free.  

Dodged that bullet.

We still had a couple more logs I knew about, because I had scouted the trail ahead of us, and after losing it, and cussing the people who didn’t replace diamonds (that would be me in part), found it again, and led the group to the next cut.  In addition to diamonds, I was using strips of pink ribbon that I could tie to plants.  Pink or orange ribbon has helped me find trails many times.

There was a pair of logs to be cut out that the other two dealt with while I put diamonds on both sides of a tree.  Then there were some logs that would be cut on a regular hiking trail, but I leave alone since snow will cover them, at least if we get a normal snow year.  They were cut anyway.  More time on trail.  I had said several times to the crew who was opening up the trail that this was a winter trail.  The bottom didn’t have to be perfect; people just needed room to pass through it.

I got home well after 6 and considered myself lucky.

I respect people with no off buttons, but I am not one of them, and I don’t think that is a particularly healthy lifestyle.  I could be wrong.  But I am correct when I say it is not good for me.  That kind of behavior reminds me of medicine, some of my mentors and partners, who appeared to be able to work without sleeping, eating, and perhaps even toilets for all I knew.  I just knew I couldn’t do that.  It was a reason I first left my group and then left medicine.  I’m hoping I don’t have to leave trail work for the same reason.  This isn’t trying to fix people, it is keeping trails open and is a volunteer duty.


The author (left) cutting out a log at Potato Hill Sno-Park, near Santiam Pass, Oregon.
Trimming branches at Little Nash Sno-Park,

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