Four years ago, the Crew worked on the Wren Nature Trail by the Middle Fork Ranger Station.  The trail itself was short, flat, but had been subjected to “Snowmageddon” with trees down in so many places we could barely find the trail. That afternoon, we all met as a group in one area to clear brush.  Many of us were new, and it appeared that several wanted to make a good impression by hacking away vigorously at the brush, so close together that I left the scene and worked elsewhere so I wouldn’t get struck by a blade.

I came back later when the power saws were going to be used on a log. I made the bad mistake—I knew as soon as I did it—and slipped behind the sawyer as soon as he pulled the starter cord. I knew it was wrong. Nothing happened to me, however, and we finished the job.

I can still remember afterwards, nine of us out by the ranger station when one of the senior crew members—been around forever—talked to us and pointed to me and basically dressed me down for my unsafe maneuver. It stung. I still remember the direction I was facing (west) and how I felt (like crap).

I worked with that same person a few times and always seemed to be in the wrong place whenever a power saw was going.  The individual loves the Fall Creek National Recreation Area, a beautiful place with soft soil and prone to landslides, fires, and other trail wrecking catastrophes.  It is the Sisyphus for the Crew: we work the area, and then it all falls apart again. He worked in areas with one or two other crew members he chose, mentoring them, and the rest of us worked elsewhere in the forest. I would have loved to have had a mentor, but as it has been for most of my life, I ended up learning the material on my own with practice and correction; most people are not good teachers. And in my defense, nobody ever told me that the Forest Service limited the number of people’s working in Fall Creek due to conditions.

Two years ago, the individual put out a call for volunteers to help him in Fall Creek. I decided to go and worked with him and a few others. It went fine. The second time, he had me do independent work a half mile further down the trail from the others. I did that, although I did not tell him afterwards that while I was downhill from them, several rounds, or cut logs, came crashing down in the woods to my level, a hundred yards from me. The others were cutting logs high above me and did not appear to know I was below them. When I came back up the trail, I saw new logs that hadn’t been there when I came down. I said nothing, told the individual I had finished the job, and he nodded approval. 

Last year, the individual was one of two others who went out with me on a log out at Olallie Mountain in the Three Sisters Wilderness. I was the crew leader, which made me not only nervous to begin with, since it was my first time as a crew leader for a log out, but a newly certified B level crosscut sawyer. The work went well. With one difficult log, I saw a way to slide it off trail along the smooth inner cambium layer of a recent cut log nearby. We were able to do it slick, figuratively and literally.

A few people still went to Fall Creek, and I usually wasn’t among them, until this year, when we worked the Andrews trail, doing brushing. This was my forte, and I was comfortable with the work. I should have been. I have been out with the Crew more than two hundred times in 5 years, and I am the go to person with power brushers, even though this is only my third season using them. 

This winter, the Forest Service allowed a few members of the crew to clear the east end of the Fall Creek trail. This area, damaged by fire, had dozens of trees felled to try to make a fire break during the conflagration. It was a mess. The rules were simple: stay in sight, look uphill a lot for falling debris, and be extraordinarily careful.  One of the individuals was giving steady suggestions as we went along. This did not go over well with the sawyers. I’ve had that happen on crosscut logouts, too. I don’t need extroverts firing away all sorts of suggestions when I just want to process things for myself, quietly. I knew how to conduct myself on this particular trail that day, and I did.

At Mt. Pisgah two weeks later, I was asked by the individual if I would be willing to help out in Fall Creek. I was a known quantity. I knew my way around in the woods, and I knew what needed to be done and how to stay out of trouble.  Not stated but understood was that I stayed quiet unless I had something to say. I accepted.

Ten days later, I was called and asked if I could go that week. I was told I would be doing a lot of standing around and if I didn’t want to do that, it was OK not to come. Are you kidding? Start work in a burn area with incredibly complex and interesting issues? I jumped at the chance and went out. There were only three of us, the other an A level power sawyer, still new to sawing.  We spent the day working on three logs.  A week later, I was asked again, and I went back out again. 

It took four years to go from dressed down in public to being asked to be out there because I knew my way around. 

I have since been out there two additional times. It is dangerous work. I am seeing 2-3 ton logs under enough tension that when released, can fly upward 10-15 feet and a distance of 60 to 70. Clearing aa few of them can take a full day.  We have to watch for logs above us which can roll down. Trying to walk through the mess on the trail is in some places impossible.

The senior sawyer opened up to me on the drive out one afternoon. He wasn’t sure if he still was able to go in, not because of his cutting skills but because of the work needed to get in there. I told him he didn’t have to carry everything. Others could do that. I am no longer the fastest hiker in the Club, either. I can still hike well, hike uphill and do it with a load, and frankly that’s all I want now in my life. I’ve carried power saws uphill for a mile, steadily.

So when we went into the danger zone last week, I carried his saw and a pry bar in addition to my pack and its gear. I wasn’t going to be holding the saw most of the day cutting logs.  It was something I could do, and when the time came to leave, I didn’t ask, didn’t say a word. I picked up his saw and carried it back out. Then I went back and carried the other saw out that we had.

When I was asked this week if I can go out Friday, I replied,“Yes. I’ll be there.” 

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