Archive for October, 2022


October 31, 2022

Last winter, I spoke with the Executive Director of Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska, where I volunteered for a decade, leading over a hundred  trips to the viewing blinds.  I donate to Rowe, and every year the ED calls me to catch up for a few minutes. I know his family well; his daughter is almost exactly 50 years younger than I and now a biologist in the Deep South.  I first met her when she was ten. I do miss seeing the Sandhill cranes, teaching people about them, hearing the unique call from an ancient species, and viewing their migration is one of the top three events I’ve seen in nature (the other two were a wolf in my campsite on Isle Royale, and a total solar eclipse, of which I have seen 18).

At one point, the ED asked me what a “logout” was, which I had mentioned, without realizing it, several times. I explained it to him, although I didn’t delve further into the fact that the word may be used as a noun or a verb. We go to the woods in order to log out or cut out the logs blocking the trail (the verb form) the trail. On the last logout (noun, object of a preposition), I hurt my arm.  

I wasn’t using the term to impress, which as a newcomer I might, to try to show people I understood the work, when I really didn’t.  No, I used it automatically, because for the past 25 weeks, I had participated in at least one hand crosscut log out each week, sometimes more.  I live with this daily, so comfortable with the words that I didn’t realize they had two different grammatical forms until now.  

Learning the vocabulary of a new subject is an essential step enroute to becoming competent. I would call it necessary but not sufficient. Learning the vocabulary takes time and effort; it can’t be pushed, and using the vocabulary before one has really lived or understood it brands one as a beginner, a layman, or otherwise not part of the group, unless, and this is important, one admits their newness at the outset. I know the vocabulary of medicine, but if I am explaining a skin problem to a dermatologist, I will preface my comments as, “I think it is one of those actinic thingies, or whatever you guys call it.” That means I am sort of using the language, but I admit to my ignorance. The dermatologist nods his head, smiles, and continues the evaluation. I told my urologist I couldn’t pronounce the generic name of the med I was on, only that it was an alpha-blocker, alfu-something or other. He laughed and corrected me. 

In the Navy, I had to learn nautical language: I knew about knots, port and starboard, but I had to learn about deck, overhead, bulkheads, topside and below, reefers (refrigerators), scuttlebutt (water fountains), heads (bathrooms), wardroom, officer’s country, the difference between the 01 (oh-one) deck (first deck above the main deck) and the 1 (first) deck (first deck below the main deck), forecastle, after steering, CIC (Combat Information Center, or “Christ, I’m Confused’), snipes (engineers), pork chop (supply officer), First Lieutenant (head of the Deck Department), or dog down something (tighten it). For some, a gig is a side job; in the Navy, it has two different meanings; 1) the Captain’s personal boat (noun) that we carried, with an outboard motor, and (2) a verb that meant to discipline someone, often used in the passive voice. Nearly a half century after leaving the Navy, I occasionally will use gig, along with gundeck, another verb/noun, which means to say one has accomplished a job when in fact one did nothing. Like certain words in other languages that describe things better than we have in English, Navy-ese still is used by me along with “scosh,” from “scoshi” or a little (Japanese), example: “Give me a scosh.”  

On a ride back from a logout a week ago, I explained the injury I had suffered to my forearm when I slipped and slid down a rootball wad flat on my back, fortunately cushioned by my pack. My forearm immediately swelled, and I knew I had a hematoma. My explanation of it I later heard had the guy in back think that I had to be a physician, because I was talking so smoothly about something medical.

Having started at the bottom of many ladders in many fields (chemistry, medicine, statistics, medical administration, amateur astronomy, guiding canoe trips, learning a language, and now doing volunteer trail work), is that learning the vocabulary is the first big step towards competence. Pathology, which I took the second year of medical school, is where I really learned the vocabulary of medicine, even more than anatomy.

When I went to the canoe country to work, or to wilderness trails in the Cascades, I originally knew nothing about the work. I asked about strange words, like kerf, bind, leaner, or “how a log can talk to you,” for logs certainly have all of those characteristics. While knowing the vocabulary doesn’t make one competent, someone who neither knows the words nor pronounces them correctly stands out as a beginner, not to be ridiculed if the person is trying to work, but perhaps needs a slight toning down a little if they are trying to impress you. 

Little by little, through now eight-five logouts, the noun form, I have graduated from Apprentice, past Beginner, to some Competence, to Deal with more difficult logs, to Explain my work to others, and to Follow the Great masters whom I know. 

The route begins with learning the language of the field, asking questions, and showing up, for a big part of success is showing up. When I started, I thought a raker was an individual, not a thing on a crosscut saw that acts like a small chisel during sawing. I now speak the language, and while I will never stop learning, never be either a C Sawyer nor an instructor, I have reached a skill level I never once dreamed existed, either in life, let alone for me.  

I’ve come a long way, with far to go, but with good people with whom to travel that road.

Before and after log out of a trail in Gold Lake Sno-Park. This log would be trouble on a snowshoe. Power saw used, because we were not in the wilderness.


October 15, 2022

Nearly every time I had participated in a wilderness logout, where we clear downed trees from trails, at least once somebody had corrected something in my saw technique. Initially, I expected this, although I have written here before about “pulling,” which for a full year by me was interpreted as pulling to one side or the other; pulling down as a flaw never occurred to me. Nobody told me about it; I happened to figure it out on a large log where the two of us couldn’t see each other and the only way any pulling could be determined without sight was my pulling down on the saw. To me, that was a revelation, one I could easily and did fix.

I never had a mentor, unlike some members of the crew, someone who could have taught me, and I never had specific teaching on a given log, except one afternoon on my 47th trip out with the crew, three years ago, when I worked with one sawyer who let me decide how to cut out the log. One time. Now, when young women joined the crew for a day, suddenly there was a lot more teaching! I did, as I have throughout most of my education, taught myself.

I really shouldn’t have been bothered by the corrections, except I seldom heard anybody else get corrected, and I had seen plenty of pulling to one side, strokes too fast or too short, or other issues. All of us make occasional errors on the saw, and to me, fair or unfair, it seemed like mine were pointed out, rather than let go, if they were one and done. I seldom corrected others, mostly because I still felt myself new at the business, and besides, most of the corrections or instruction I had given to newer people appeared to me to be ignored. 

The feeling never went away, and I began to dwell on it more than I should have. Still, after more than 80 days doing logouts, I could think of only 2 where nobody commented, and if after nearly 5 years of doing this I still was getting such comments, well, I’m old, perhaps too old for this.

With these thoughts in my head, the Crew went out to log out Rebel Rock trail, a steep monster that climbs 3200 feet in 6 miles (1 km in 10 km), easily over 1000 feet (300 m) in the first mile and a quarter (2 km), one of the steepest trails I have encountered. I had been more forgetful than I usually am, leaving my radio and axe at home, although those weren’t major problems. In any case, instead of that 7 pounds, I had a Pulaski and a saw in addition to my pack. Part of our group split off at the first log maybe a half mile in; two of us kept on going uphill—plodding would be a better verb for me—to the next downed log a half mile further. Nobody caught up to us when we finished, and we continued uphill to the next few logs where eventually others started to filter in. They looked like they were plodding, too.

We cut this one out by first having two of us climb up hill about 30 feet and cutting there. After the end bind, or the weight of the log, was removed, the second cut was made just to the left of the blackened trunk. The fire was 5 years ago.

I worked Rebel Rock 5 years ago as my first outing with the Crew. We climbed 2700 feet that day, and it was more work than most of my Club hikes, and I was carrying tools and working as well. 

Sure enough, on the third log, my partner on the saw told me to give him more saw, which meant let him be able to pull back more. My record was now 83 for 85 in having corrections on logouts. Oh well.

By the time we had lunch in a dry stream bed near where several big logs were not only across the trail, but below a small slide where a large rock looked like it might let go any second, I was tired. Afterwards, we worked out a way to go under the logs, not daring to try to remove them with fear of the rock, and the group split so that half stayed working on the nearby tread, and the other half, including me, kept climbing and logging out. I was moderately concerned about my water supply because I had only a liter and a half on an October day that was more like mid-August. I was closely watching my consumption.

Where we chose to keep the trail under the log. Notice the rock in the upper left corner.

One with me was recently B-certified on the saw, which was appropriate, but we had similar experience, and he always seemed to make a point to find something I was doing wrong. We had reached the last log we would do before turning around and hiking an hour’s back downhill to the vehicles. It was a 14 inch one across the trail with side bind, the log’s bulging out where the tree had fallen and become entrapped between a couple of others well downhill from the trail.  With side bind, if one cuts on the convexity, the log will explode outward. I mean explode. I have seen it. There was a YouTube Video of that on Instagram where a guy did it with a chain saw. He got thrown back several feet, lucky he wasn’t hurt or worse. My partner started on the below trail part in the danger zone. I was off trail as well, ready to saw, but he couldn’t seem to get comfortable. I suggested we change positions, because I could see I could sit on the trail and saw safely away from the bind. He was taller and could stand where I had been.

As we started sawing, he was still trying to get comfortable, and I saw him pull the saw strongly to his left. No question at all. He then did it again. I stayed silent as I usually did. We worked a little longer, the kerf or cut spot on the log started to open up at the top and towards me, consistent with the bind, and a short while later, he said I was pulling about an inch to my right.

Moment of truth. What do I do?

I quietly said, “You’ve been pulling a few times on your left.” Just the truth, not trying to be critical.

“Thank you for telling me.”

We cut the log out, the rest of the time my vision’s being laser-focused on the saw, which was in a straight line between the two of us. One more cut needed to be made over the trail, before we could close everything up. Once I saw everything had been cleared, I left the site.

It was a long way to the vehicles. I fell crossing a root wad hole, on cruise control forgetting that the soil was slick, fell and landed on my back, breaking the saw blade sheath and giving myself a hematoma on my forearm. I found a couple of small streams on the way down and cleaned my arm.  I would finish the last of my water about a quarter mile from the cars and once again would have three new bruises on my arms, which would go with the other ten in various stages of healing.

Next time Rebel gets logged out, people are going to have to hike uphill for 2.5 miles to begin. That is what I did 5 years ago. It won’t be easy, maybe or maybe not I will be up for it, but in any case, I will be polite and honest with my partner on the saw. I think I needed to correct others more often. My partner needed to hear it, and I needed to say it.