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May 7, 2023

“We don’t claim to be sane,” said Spur as he and Silvermoon left the Hogback Ridge Shelter at 9 p.m., heading north on the Appalachian Trail towards Erwin, Tennessee.  They arrived at the 3-sided wooden shelter as I finished my dinner.  For the last hundred miles, we had leapfrogged each other. They were about to jump ahead.

A month earlier the pair, whom I had learned were from Atlanta, decided to thru-hike the entire trail.  Spur, his trail name coming from his spur-of-the-moment thru-hike decision, ran a business.  Silvermoon was a florist.  I was “Voyageur.”  I never learned their real names.

Shelters occurred every 8-15 miles along the Trail.  While comfortably sleeping a dozen, an adage was “there’s always room for one more,” especially in a driving rain.  Unfortunately, most shelters harbored large populations of well-fed, pack-smart mice that ran over sleeping hikers.  I usually pitched my tent nearby. There was usually a logbook left by a hiker containing instructions to mail it, postage guaranteed, when the book was full.  Reading the past months of entries was a pleasant way to spend an evening and to learn about diversity of hiker goals, opinions, adventures, and equipment. In addition, because of travel in both directions, one heard about upcoming terrain and obtained reviews of the nearest town, emphasizing food, cost, and lodging, in that order.

That evening, I was in the middle of a 300-mile section hike from the Smokies to southwest Virginia.  The previous year, I had hiked from northern Georgia to the Smokies.  I was in better shape this time and had exactly what I needed, nothing more. “Ten (miles) Before Ten (a.m.)” was my motto, and twenty plus mile days were normal. The pack felt part of me.

I had stuck my head outside the tent to see how well their headlamps worked.  Seemed interesting. While the two were hiking under a waxing gibbous Moon, it was often cloudy in the Appalachians, so bright moons usually weren’t helpful. Probably more relevant, however, was that the AT was a green tunnel. I arrived on the Trail from Arizona with a full body tan.  After hiking in just shorts for two weeks, my tan disappeared.

Hogback was in dense, hardwood forest, dark even by AT standards.  Still, the idea of a night hike was intriguing. I missed out on a real treat.  I should have gone with them, even after 21 miles that day and even without a headlamp.

Three days later, I caught up with the two at a restaurant in Erwin.  They were staying at Johnny’s Hostel near where the Trail emerged from the mountains by the Nolichucky River. Everybody on the AT in Tennessee knew about Erwin and Johnny’s.  Hikers were good listeners in restaurants, since they were eating and not talking. I was no exception. Sitting down at a table across from Silvermoon, I rapidly spooned a quart of chocolate ice cream into my fat-starved frame, seldom looking up. It was really good.  

Silvermoon was still excited about their night hike. “After we left you,” she said, looking at my rapidly diminishing pile of ice cream with some envy, “we descended into Low Gap and climbed in pitch darkness up to Big Bald.”  The AT in the South has numerous descents into gaps and climbs to balds, grassy mountaintops. 

“Once we were on Big Bald, it was just us and fireflies everywhere, with lots of stars and a bright Moon.  We didn’t need our headlamps, so we turned them off.  It was even better then.” I actually stopped eating, visualizing the scene, having been there hours after they were.

“The miles just slipped by, with little flashes of light everywhere we looked. We finally slept up there in the open, with twinkling lights above, below, and around us.  It was magical.” Silvermoon smiled, then delivered the coup de grace: “And so much nicer than that dark hole where you were.”

See you on the trail. Watch for fireflies.

from the Obsidian Journal May 2023 at


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.


July 13, 2022

We ate lunch high above Rebel Creek, which below us would fall another 600 feet to the south fork of the McKenzie River. I lay perpendicular to the trail with my legs hanging over the steep drop a few hundred feet down to the rushing water.  I kept staring at a huge Douglas fir below that went straight up past me, ending in a crown of branches high above.  There was a 12 inch log that needed to be cut out where we stopped, but my partner and I were both ready to eat.  Often, I like to eat after I cut out something rather than before, but we had been cutting out stuff all morning, after we finally entered the Three Sisters Wilderness after a 2 mile hike in.

Rebel Rock and Creek trails were burned in the 2017 Rebel fire, and I could see areas on trees that were scorched, but not badly. My first trail work outing with the Crew was on Rebel Rock trail, on the other side of a high divide above me, and there, the burn was more significant, damaging more trees, but clearing out the understory. In any case, this trail hadn’t been cleared in 5 years, and it looked it. Back in early spring, a small crew logged out the first mile using chain saws, since they were not yet in the wilderness. They stopped at Rebel Creek where there was no bridge, and the day before a small chain saw crew had crossed the creek and cut about half a mile further up the trail.

This day, there were two chain saw crews to finish logging out the trail to the wilderness boundary, and two crosscut teams, with my partner and I in the lead. We had to first hike through the remaining uncleared area outside the wilderness, trying to find the trail in a jumble of downed logs and a lot of brush, and then, when we found the broken off wilderness boundary sign, start clearing the trail from there.  We weren’t just cutting out an occasional downed log; there were considerable amounts of brush and downed branches, the size of small trees, crescent shaped, that if one kicked or picked up properly, could be easily moved off the trail.  Then we would come to actual logs, which I could tackle with my pocket saw, Corona hand saw, KatanaBoy, or the 6 foot saw my partner was carrying. It took some time for him to take it off and take the sheath off to get it ready for use, so I would use the small saws where I could. We had removed a 20 inch log right after the boundary and a few others where the big saw was needed.

Finally, the other pair caught up to us, and we returned the favor shortly later at a place with a few trees over the trail and a 20+ inch Western cedar chest high over the trail. We were about to cut it, but the other crew told us to move on up the trail. So we left, cut out a few more logs, more brush, threw branches over the side, until we turned a corner with the 12 inch log, where we had lunch.

Western Red cedar across the trail

After, we continued to climb above the creek, slowly putting cleared trail behind us. We came to a pair of leaners and used my strap on the outer one pulling it down and getting it off the trail. The other one was stable.  A hundred yards further, I took out a four inch leaner by cutting it off near the bottom, and when part of it came down, lifted it over a root in hopes it would slide more, but it hung up. So, I made another cut, shortening the leaner and finally broke it free. It slowly dropped towards me, and I guided it over the edge. 

The leaners. We left the inner one.

Up ahead, my partner was at a big, big log. The hemlock was across the trail, several inches of ground clearance, large 4 inch diameter branches on it, one of which looked like it was supporting part of an old burnt out log that was over the one we needed to cut. From that log 15 yards up the trail were a series of trees downed or over the trail. There was plenty of ground clutter where we were.

Steve evaluating the log. The trail goes towards the upper left corner.

Log outs aren’t just 2 folks on a crosscut going from one log to the next.  Aside from all the brushing work we had to do in between logs, like the leaners, or the 2-6 inch logs that sometimes were part of the ground and could be surprisingly difficult to remove, there was a lot of prep work.

Part way through. The axe needed to be sheathed or in a log.

OHLEC, or the approach to cutting, is Objective, Hazards, Leans/Binds, Escape Routes, Cutting plan. THEN, it’s time to cut. I also consider “Overhead’ as part of the O, to remind myself to look for dead trees or other hazards right above the log to be cut. This log had several large branches that needed to be removed, one of which looked like it was supporting a slab of wood above us. It might not have been, but we don’t like surprises, and might not happen is a poor approach to cutting hazards.  

There were also hazard branches over us, stobs, or broken branches that either could support the log off the ground and might be useful left alone, or interfere with the cut log and make it difficult to roll it off the trail. Each had to be addressed, and as noted, some of these were the size of small trees we had been removing. There were also small bushes that could trap the saw briefly, get in the way of cutting, or brush our faces while working.  My partner trimmed the slab, then removed the branch that might have been supporting it, which as it turned out, it was not.  We cut off the burned slab, not difficult given its limited thickness. It took us the better part of an hour just to clear the area of hazards.

The log is cut out and more of the trail needs work. The pry log I carried is right underneath the axe.

Removing the log needs to be planned for before the cut, too. I suggested getting a pole to put under the log that would help guide it off the trail. I looked behind me at a 5-6 inch log I had cut out 30 yards back down the trail. I could cut a chunk of that out. In the meantime, my partner went up the trail and started clearing the next 15 yards of debris.

The 5 inch log was on a slope, and true to form, difficult to deal with. I was able to pull it down a little to get a long enough chunk to use.  Unfortunately, as I was cutting through, the log began to shift and slid down several feet, meaning I had to start over. There was some top bind on the log, so I did a top cut and then finished with an undercut  doing part of the work below the trail on a small flat rock, where the log was trying to slide past. Once I got the 6 foot length cut out, I moved it to the trail, the rest of the log slid down to partly over the trail, not what I wanted. 

Nobody else was coming, so I didn’t worry about the remainder and carried the pry log back. We put it under the big log and then made two cuts from the top, dropping the log on to the pry log. Once it was there, we turned it about 60 degrees, since it was easy to pivot, and then with our legs, two slight pushes, rolled it off to the side of the trail. Finally done.

I would later check the next 250 yards of trail before the next big log. I would throw several branches off the trail, and with a small pull, have 25 feet of log go smoothly by me over the edge, with minimal effort. We made almost a half mile today. There are 3 miles at least to go on the trail to finish. My partner was kind enough to remove the log I had taken the pry log from.

We’ll be back here again, but we’ve got other trails that are higher priority right now. 

Trail after the hemlock was removed, and the four other logs below it.


June 27, 2022

The Salmon Lakes Trail was going to be an easy logout, a vacation compared to the prior week’s 13.2 mile trek through the Three Sisters Wilderness. I had scouted the trail 4 days earlier and had found 6 logs starting two miles east of the trailhead, inside the Waldo Lake Wilderness, which surrounds Waldo Lake on three sides, but does not include the lake itself. Once those logs were removed, I would hike about a half mile further to Upper Salmon Lake checking for logs. I doubted there would be many there.  It is fairly open on that stretch and the last few years has had few obstructions.

Waldo Meadows area

Half of the group would then head north up Waldo Meadows Trail where I had found another half dozen logs within a half mile, before being turned back by snow.  It was warmer, and there had been rain, so it was possible that enough snow had melted that perhaps the group could reach the junction with Waldo Mountain Trail a mile from the meadow and hike that back to the trailhead, logging it out and finishing the loop. In any case, it had all the makings of a straightforward day.

Two miles in, I took care of two smaller logs myself, moving both of them, helped cut out a third, and we all regrouped at Waldo Meadows, which was entirely visible, the snow’s having left probably not more than a week or two earlier. In summer, the plants are so high, one can hide in it. Indeed, 4 years prior, almost to the day, was the first time I saw the meadow, and I could barely find the trail. I thought that was the default view of the meadow, but the grasses and flowers are all annuals, and in early season it looks bare.

Waldo Meadows 8 June 2021
Same place 23 days later, 1 July 21

I headed to Salmon Lakes while three others in the crew with me took care of a log. The trail as expected was clear, the outflow of Upper Salmon Lake, which becomes a major tributary of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River in Oakridge, was flowing well. A patch of snow was near the lake, presumably in a shady spot or other cool microclimate. 

When I returned to the meadow, the log had been cleared, and I radioed the crew leader, who was above me on the Waldo Meadows Trail heading away. I told him we would continue logging out the trail another mile or so, heading towards Chetco Lake 2 additional miles east, before turning around. Before reaching Chetco, another trail turns northward and then west, climbing Waldo Mountain, 1000 feet above us, which now was still covered in snow and inaccessible, before descending to the junction to which other crew was heading. The full loop is about 9 miles, with 1700 feet of climbing, but the views from Waldo Mountain are spectacular.

Waldo Lake from Waldo Mountain. The paired Twins are across the lake

I put my pack on and started walking east through Waldo Meadows, the trail climbing slightly through grass, thinking that few trees are out here that are going to fall on the trail, so I will get some free mileage without logs.

I was so wrong. 

A 250-300 year old hemlock, part of a small island of a few trees in the meadow, had fallen smack across the trail, and its 47 inch diameter size gave new meaning to DBH (diameter at breast height). The downed log literally came up to my chest. I cleared a few branches while waiting for the rest to arrive.

After some soul searching and group discussion, we decided to remove the log. Making a bypass of the log in a trail in a somewhat fragile meadow is not something we want to do. We started one cut on the main log and a trimming cut on the end closer to the stump, where it had fractured. 

I’ve worked on several project logs, where most of the day is spent in one area sawing or digging. One was on the Vivian Lake trail where a tree had come down on an angle and had end bind, where the weight of the tree compressed the entire log that was lower. If one removed a wedge, it was possible to see the kerf, or the saw cut, slowly close. End binds have no easy way to cut. Last year, we had another end bind in a 30 inch log on Black Creek.  We finally had to saw parallel kerfs a few inches apart and then with a Pulaski knock out the chunk of wood in between. That means cutting an inch, maybe a little more, twice, chunking out the wood with a Pulaski, and continuing inch by inch through the diameter. This log took 5 hours to remove.

Two years ago, on Shale Ridge, in the same wilderness northwest of where we were, where I had just been certified, another log also had a bind problem, and one person spent 5 hours chunking it out while the rest of us logged out 3 miles of trail. We cut a small notch in the log for people could pass, but this was not adequate for horses, and a year later the job was to open up the trail fully. Seven of us worked together and cut a larger passage through. It turns out a huge branch which we couldn’t see had pushed straight into the ground, and only with a pry log, a lot of digging, and a great deal of time, we finally succeeded in pulling it out, which was essential to remove the round, or the cut piece. I saw the branch on my B-cert trip and had forgotten how large it was, the size of a moderate tree, explaining why it took so much effort to remove the log.  We have joked that we wanted to move the wilderness boundary sign past a problem log. 

Our current VLL (very large log) was able to be cut to ground level. Below that, however, we had to dig the dirt out and use care that the teeth of the crosscut not get into the dirt, which is damaging. Dirt isn’t good for small hand saws, either, but they are more easily replaced. We would dig out, saw, and finally use a KatanaBoy to finish the cut, which we did on the first cut after 3 hours and an hour later for the second cut, much of which was fortunately through a rotten area of the log. 

Moving the round, once it was cut, was another matter. We had to break it out of the ground and try to make the path to the side of the trail more gravity friendly. That took 3 people on as many PLTs (precision leveraging tools which were long logs used as lever), and all four of us pushing our legs, digging out blocking soil underneath, until at long last nearly 100 cubic feet of wood started to move. 

At least once it began to roll, it moved just off the trail and stopped.  Had it stopped in the middle of the trail, I think we all would have cried.

The author (right). Multiple hard plastic wedges are keeping the kerf open, or at least trying to.
The round off the trail. All that remains is a 3 mile hike out, with our gear.


April 18, 2022

The campsite had not looked special, on a point along a channel of Basswood Lake, a mile south of the Canadian border in the Boundary Waters.  The site we had set our mind upon in the bay was occupied, and another had a difficult climb up from the water which was fine, if one were having lunch, but not so fine if one wanted to go places and come back. Or just get water for dinner. Long climbs carrying water or packs get old. The site we were on had one good tent spot, all we needed, and had views north to Canada and sunrise views over American Point.

The first night a pair of beavers swam by about 5 yards off shore, on their way to the swampy area right off the east side of the site. This would be repeated every night we were there, and one morning we watched as a beaver felled a tree. Pretty neat. On the second night, we saw an aurora, and while it wasn’t as bright the green curtains I saw hanging in the Canadian sky a half-century earlier, any aurora is worth seeing.

The third day, we saw an otter as we travelled out of the bay on a day trip. He was having a great time going in and out of the water. That night, we heard wolves howling, too far away to try to find—but we wouldn’t have seen them anyway.

The final day, we took a trip to the Canadian border and Basswood Falls, passing a campsite where we had stayed in 2004, a day after a bear on Crooked Lake got our food during a howling storm. Eating our fifth consecutive meal of mash potatoes, I had seen something that looked like a windmill churning water moving across the lake from Canada. I had no idea what it was for about five minutes, then realized it was a moose swimming with a large bush stuck in his antlers. Nice memory. 

After we returned from the border, I sat in camp and said to myself the only thing we hadn’t seen on this particular trip was a moose. I had no complaints; it was a great trip.  An hour later, I heard a noise in the marsh behind me, turned and there he was, a bull moose, fifty yards away, chewing on a bush. We stayed quiet, and he didn’t leave for a good ten minutes, then disappeared through the back of our campsite.

What a great world we live in!


Eight years ago in late January, the 28th according to the picture I have of it, back when I lived in Arizona, there was a brief rain storm, and near noon, the Sun came out.  Recent rain and sunshine mean rainbows, and I love them, both the colors and why they occur, which makes me doubly lucky.  I have seen a rainbow after sunset, when the zenith is still getting sunlight, and the rainbow spans the entire N-S plane of the celestial sphere over us. Astronomer Steven O’Meara has seen them up to I believe 14 minutes after sunset, but he lived in Hawai’l and had a lot of practice. My record is still seeing one 7 minutes after sunset.

The Sun has to be fewer than 42 degrees elevation to see a rainbow. That’s why we usually see them early morning or late afternoon. The sun is usually too high at noon, unless it is winter.  I did the math in my head: In late January, the Sun is at declination (sky latitude) minus 18, or 18 deg. S. The North Star is at 32 elevation in Tucson, so overhead in Tucson is 58 deg N. On the solstice, the Sun was 23.5 deg south latitude, and 23.5 from 58 was 34.5 degrees above the horizon at local noon, which in January is about 12:35-12:40 pm.  Add in the difference of 18 deg S from 23.5 deg S, and the sun would be about 40 deg high at noon. This was going to be close, but I thought it ought to be possible to see it.  I went out to the driveway, looked north towards the top of Catalina mountains but saw no rainbow. Hmmm. Then I thought, silly me, it’s on the ground. I looked down right to where the base of the mountains met the desert.

There it was.

A beautiful rainbow was flowing along the base of the Catalina mountains. That was SO COOL to see. I found something I would have missed otherwise by knowing a simple fact about rainbows then when the time came remembering that I just might see a rainbow at noon.  I did, on the ground against the mountains.

Is this an interesting world, or what?


In 2007, I hiked the South Rim Trail in Big Bend National Park, out to where the cliffs drop into the Chihuahua Desert. It was humid, late June, and Big Bend was part of my national park odyssey.  It was an 11 hour drive to get there, during which I saw my first Scissor-tailed flycatcher. You can’t miss them. I left the Chisos Basin early, nobody was out there, and when I reached the cliffs, I could see the desert a couple of thousand feet below me. A south wind was blowing into my face, which was pleasant, after all the climbing.

Up ahead I saw what I first thought was smoke, then realized it was water condensing into a cloud. It’s the same phenomenon I saw 20 miles from Victoria Falls from a train back in 2001 when I went to the Zambia eclipse. I couldn’t figure out what it was until I realized the sheer amount of water formed a cloud.

What I saw at Big Bend that day was a demonstration of orographic lift, the phenomenon that explains why mountains get so much more precipitation than valleys. The water vapor hits the mountains, is forced upward, cools, and condenses when it cools to the dew point. That day in Big Bend, the south wind was ferrying humid air that struck the cliffs, forced upwards, and condensed right in front of me. It was incredible.

It truly is a remarkable world.

Cloud formation, Big Bend National Park, June 2007


I read last week about the shock wave that went around the world for 2 1/2 days after the Tonga eruption. What I didn’t know was that the wave was measurable, and we have proof of the compression and the expansion of the atmosphere when the wave passed.

The graphics in the New York Times were excellent, and when I read about the barometric pressure changes, a couple of mb or a few hundredths of an inch, I decided to look on my own.  Not every place had a clear brief rise in late morning of 15 January, or a brief clear drop that night, and some places had active weather occurring that would have overwhelmed any small signal from the shock wave. But I was enthralled by barometric pressures in places \that showed a clear brief rise followed by a drop in the late morning and a clear brief drop, followed by a rise around midnight the next day.  This absolutely fascinated me, enough so that I showed my wife, who doesn’t share my rabid enthusiasm for such trivia. She liked it, too. How could you not? 

Moose, wolves, beaver, otter, and an aurora, same trip.  A rainbow practically on the ground at noon in the desert, because that is where it has to be. Orographic lift happening right in front of me.  And barometric pressure showing a change from a shock wave from a south Pacific volcanic eruption many hours earlier.

Tonga Volcano shockwave in Chicagoland (SOURCE: NWS Chicago)


8:53 AM4 °F-2 °F76 %E6 mph0 mph29.64 in0.0 inFair
9:53 AM5 °F-1 °F76 %VAR3 mph0 mph29.65 in0.0 inFair
10:53 AM7 °F2 °F80 %VAR3 mph0 mph29.64 in0.0 inFair


7:54 AM42 °F39 °F89 %ESE6 mph0 mph29.95 in0.0 inCloudy
8:45 AM42 °F40 °F92 %CALM0 mph0 mph29.95 in0.0 inCloudy
8:54 AM42 °F40 °F92 %CALM0 mph0 mph29.96 in0.0 inCloudy
9:14 AM41 °F39 °F93 %ENE5 mph0 mph29.96 in0.0 inMostly Cloudy
9:54 AM41 °F39 °F93 %SE6 mph0 mph29.95 in0.0 inMostly Cloudy
10:25 AM40 °F38 °F93 %SE5 mph0 mph29.95 in0.0 inMostly Cloudy


April 3, 2022

The first canoe trip I led in 1967 was to Little Island Lake in Algonquin Park, where I was responsible for 3 other staff and 8 campers. I wore the red neckerchief signifying my head man status, a big deal for me. I was 18.

What I remember most about that trip, however, which I didn’t foresee, was swim time. When the campers started playing in the water, I stood on shore counting heads, over and over.  If I didn’t count enough, I stopped the play until I was satisfied. When they got out of the water, I was relieved. At night, if one cried out, I awoke and lay awake wondering it I needed to get up. 

They weren’t wearing life jackets or PFDs (personal flotation device), either. We didn’t do that back then; it wouldn’t be until I was working for the Forest Service in Minnesota in 1992 that I wore one, far too late in life to start, but alive to do it, and I have never since been in a canoe without wearing a PFD.

I thought I knew what responsibility was and that being a head man would be great. I was humbled and often frankly scared at times at what I was doing. On my fourth and final trip as head man, on the Tim River, I still remember carrying a canoe on my head and a pack on my back on portages, 140 pounds. Nine years ago, back at Pathfinder for a reunion (where I would again go to Little Island Lake for a day trip), I carried one of those Old Town canvas canoes a mile. It was so difficult; the previous century, when I carried a canoe across that portage, I trotted. 

Back at Pathfinder for the first time since 1967; August 2013.

Recently, I was Crew Leader for a work party in the Willamette NF. This was my fifth time doing this, but the first time where I had no past supervisor with the Forest Service, BLM, or NPS along. I knew the each of other six had more experience than I, but none of them chose to lead the Crew that day, and I did, because I wanted to be in the woods the week the regular leader was out of town and nobody else stepped forward.

It was different being in charge. Right away. We needed to power brush the Oregon grape, Sword ferns and Salal off the trail, and I asked two people whom I knew had experience with the brusher to start. I offered myself at any point to help out. In the meantime, I and another went the other direction downhill to a stream. I let him put in drainage spots on the way down; I wanted to go directly to the end, see the bridges, including a failed one, and then started working my way back up. We soon met and hiked back out, noting that this section needed brushing as well, I was supervising more than working, and it felt odd.

As we rejoined the other group, there was an issue with the brusher’s idle that was an annoyance, but we didn’t have the tools to fix it. I moved on, deciding that we could probably finish this trail early and maybe continue part way up the next section, but I would have to scout that. I could afford to be absent for a half hour. I went further and saw Mary, asking her if she could go back to the brusher and take over from Sam, who didn’t tell me he needed a break, but he looked like he wouldn’t complain if he had one. Mary said she would go back, and I walked quickly to the end of the trail, up the road, and uphill on the next section.

I wanted to get to the top of the switchbacks, but after a couple hundred feet elevation gain and a third of a mile, I had seen what I knew I needed to, and by the time I returned it would be time to take over from Mary. So I retraced my steps, down, across, and up to reach her. Mary needed her pack, so I went back to get it, while she continued brushing. 

I hadn’t planned on brushing, but nobody was nearby or interested, the work wasn’t too difficult, and I finally stopped at 11:30, a couple hundred yards from the end of the trail. My pack was well back up the trail, and I was hungry. Fortunately, Jim, who was back raking had been kind enough to move my pack forward. When brushing, whoever is in back raking should bring the packs forward.

After lunch, when I finished the trail, Mary was working on the tread near the end, but three others had gone ahead to work the next section. I still had to brush the western part of the trail where we entered, which meant a mile walk back and then more brushing. I asked Mary her thoughts about who should do what.  We decided we would all meet at the cars at about 2. She offered to go after the others to bring them back. I would then walk back to the cars, up to where we began, and do the brushing on the west side of the trail.

Finished power brushing sword ferns. Not exactly Leave no Trace

When I finished, at 2, nobody was present. So, I broke down the brusher, put it in the trunk, then drove to the other end of the trail, passing 3 of the crew coming towards the cars. They hadn’t seen anybody, and that bothered me, since one of them had been with the group. 

Now I’ve got 3 people I need to find, and probably will, but at least 2 of them know we were supposed to be at the cars by 2, and it was after 2. I’m in charge, and that sort of stuff bothers me. It should. I don’t know with certainty where my crew is. Not good. About 200 yards up the trail (and quite a bit of up, my second time doing that today), I found them. They had misjudged the time it would take to get back and the leader of that group saw a yellow hat in the woods and thought it was one of the others, when it turned out to be a hiker. They wanted to walk to the cars, not realizing it was uphill and nearly a mile, and others were waiting.

It’s different when you are in charge. Minor communication problems don’t seem so minor, and you are responsible. It’s one thing to be in a clinic and have an attending physician around. It’s another thing to be moving away from the California coast at 20 knots, 1500 miles from Hawaii, way out of help range, and a sailor tells you he has bad abdominal pain with tenderness in the right lower quadrant.

It’s different when you are leading a hike and somebody is lagging behind, so you have to decide whether to turn them around, turn around the hike, or stay with the individual and let the hike continue. One person I knew posted my picture on Facebook several years ago saying, “Mike never smiles.” Could be true.  When I led a trip, I couldn’t just drive up and hike, carefree. It was and is responsibility for the others there.

It’s different when there is a diabetic woman with a stiff neck and fever, and she is too obese to do a spinal tap. It’s 2 am, no attending physician to call, and you need to do a cisternal puncture to prove or disprove the diagnosis. 

It is so different when you are working on the trail, an 80 year-old slow-motion falls to the ground and seems a little dazed, and you are a retired medical person trying to figure out what is going on. It seems straightforward on paper; it’s not that way when you are a long way from a road, you don’t want to call in a very time and person-intensive emergency if it isn’t, but you don’t want to lose time for a golden hour, clot buster drugs, or daylight, either.

In short, it is really easy to play expert and opine on a variety of topics. It is quite another to be in a difficult situation, alone, with only your judgment and your knowledge to deal with it. 

I’m going out to brush Winberry Divide Trail this Thursday. I walked it today, I know what needs to be done, and I can do any job that needs to be done on it. But I want the others to do the work and I will both supervise and help.

View of some of the Lane County Cascade Foothills from Winberry Divide Trail, part of the E2C or Eugene-to-Crest trail.


March 20, 2022

I like the axial tilt of the Earth.

It gives us seasons, a gradual change in the amount of sunlight—or darkness—we experience throughout the year. In Arizona, where I lived for 37 years, there were easily noted gradual changes.  In June,  sunrise hovered over the Pontatoc Ridge, viewed from my kitchen, for several weeks, and I could actually notice a few seconds difference each day after June 10th, as the sunrise gradually became later.  Sunrise was later than the official time, because of the horizon, it was about 5:15 am, 45 minutes earlier on the valley floor.  About five days after the solstice, I could just notice that the sunrise was a little further to the south than it had been.  You can’t tell the exact solstice by looking at the horizon each day, but you can be close.

At sunset, the changes weren’t quite as visible since the horizon was neither raised nor sharply defined, but starting in early July, the sunset gradually became earlier, after 11 days in a row at 7:34 pm.  After twilight, it was dark by 9 pm, without the long twilight I was used to in the northerly latitudes where I grew up. Darkness comes earlier in the lower latitudes, even more dramatic near the equator. This is because the ecliptic, or the path of the Sun, Moon, and planets as seen from the Earth, is more vertical at the equator, and has a smaller angle with the horizon the further north or south one goes.  That smaller angle is why twilight lasts longer, because after the Sun sets, it is moving significantly north as well, so much of its motion below the horizon is transferred northward and not westward away from the horizon. That results in long twilights.

Now, with the Senate having passed a bill mandating universal daylight savings time, I wonder why we can’t just have universal standard time. As Brian Brettschneider, Alaskan climatologist, posted, “amount of daylight saved: 0.”  We would be better off using the German term “Sommerzeit,” or “summer time.”  We’d be even better off using standard time. That is why it is called standard. 

Arizona will not likely change from being on MST; I never heard an Arizonan complain that there was no daylight savings time. The last thing anybody in the desert wants in June is sunset at 8:34 pm, or in January sunrise at 8:24 am. One of the few pleasures about living in the desert in summer is that it gets dark by 9. It may still be—and it usually is—hot, but with darkness comes hope for cooler temperatures. I live in a world where sun is generally considered good, rain bad, light good, dark bad, and days with rain are dreary and bad whereas sunny days, even with wildfire smoke, are good. To me, summer in the 21st century is overrated, overheated, “overdry,” and “oversmoked.”

In Arizona, I always knew when GMT was—7 hours ahead of local time. Here in Oregon, I can never remember if it is 8 or 9 hours, and I don’t like the sudden change of more darkness in the morning when it had been slowly getting lighter, and more light in the evening, when it had been getting gradually lighter. It grates. I like the gradual change in light throughout the year, especially the gradual lessening of daylight in summer, for up here, summer is no longer on July 5, which is what people told me when I moved here. It’s a five month stretch between May 1 and October 1, just like Arizona, only drier and a little less hot. Unless we have a heat dome.

In Arizona, I knew June 10 that the Sun was going to rise later for the next 7 months. In 11 more days, the solstice would occur, when the Sun would stop getting higher in the sky.  Two weeks later, the Sun would start setting earlier, and I had the sense at least that summer was moving along astronomically, even if not meteorologically.  

I’m not alone. I commented in the NY Times a couple of years ago about an article written near the winter solstice, looking forward to more daylight, and wrote what became one of my 35 “Times Pick”s.  While I didn’t include the replies, they all agreed with me. I struck a chord.

I will be a contrarian and say I like the rain and the dark days. They belong, too.

I think summer is overrated; last summer came with wildfires, smoke that kept me in the house for 10 days, and a concern of evacuation. Three of the last four years there have been significant west Cascade fires. I led a volunteer crew yesterday into the damp woods to repair a trail, creeks and rivers roaring with the water that finally came.  It was lovely.

Mind you, I counted 65 different species of wildflowers on my spring walks, I am an avid canoeist, and autumn is my favorite season. But leaving the trail yesterday with dark clouds overhead, an early sunset, and rain starting to fall, I was happy.

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In Oregon, the end of standard time will mean that for 3 1/2 months a year, from mid-October to the end of January, sunrise will occur on or after 8:30 am. Children will be walking to a school bus with a flashlight. True, sunset will be later, but what is wrong with sunrise at 7:30 and sunset at 4:30? Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, whom I otherwise deeply respect, dislikes the 4:30 sunsets in Rhode Island. Well, he lives in a northern state at the eastern end of the Eastern Time Zone. Go to New Brunswick, the next stop east of Maine, and you are on Atlantic Time. That’s why it is dark there early. There is no way you can change the fact that there are 9 hours of daylight. Please stop trying to.

“White man thinks if he cuts off a foot from the top of the blanket and puts it at the bottom of the blanket, that somehow the blanket is longer.”

I take my canoe trips near the autumnal equinox. When I base camp, I can watch the change and time in sunset and sunrise location nightly, weather permitting. It’s interesting to see it, and viewing is an important part of each day on the water.

In January, the sun runs slow relative to the clock. That is why sunsets are noticeably later in early January than they were in December. But it is also why sunrise is delayed and it is dark in the morning. Add another hour to this already delayed sunrise, and it is going to look more like night than it will morning.  Not only does the white man think the blanket is longer, he (and probably should be he, here, since women are smarter) thinks sun time and clock time are the same, when they are most definitely not.

From “Our Environment, How We Adapt Ourselves to It,” Revised by my father, Paul E. Smith, Allyn and Bacon, 1964.”

Equation of Time. This shows how the sun time varies relative to clock time throughout the year. When negative, or slow, the sun “appears” to be slower to rise and slower to set, so dark mornings and lighter evenings in January. When strongly positive, like October and early November, the sun “appears” to run faster, and sunset occurs earlier, so hence the suddenly appearing dark evenings in October.


November 11, 2021

The vaccine clinic was not busy. In the past week, we had probably given most of the Pfizer boosters we would be doing, while waiting for the Moderna ones to be approved. We had 75 people that day, a far cry from 600 the first day of boosters, and 2500 at Autzen Stadium in our prime back in spring.

Only a few volunteers were needed, and we were overstaffed, so I was the person who would direct people to the vaccinators from registration. Since the vaccinators had little green flags they could wave when ready, patients could easily find their way without me. I was there, overtrained, a bit superfluous, another check in the system, but I decided that every job is important, and I would make this one important, too.

I began choosing vaccinators in order, counterclockwise, not that the direction mattered. I had learned their names, telling them what I would do. I had been at many clinics where the nearby vaccinators were busier and those more distant were not, and clearly wanted work. As the clinic started, I wrote down who had received patients, and as the day unfolded, I started using hand signals, letting vaccinators know when they were next, second, or third. I wasn’t bored; nor did I see any vaccinator frustrated that they weren’t seeing as many patients.  By the end of the day, one vaccinator who felt she never got enough work (I thought she did) said the system worked well. I took a lowly job and made another job more efficient and more meaningful, making mine more meaningful as well. Big lesson.

I became a greeter in another clinic, when we also had many volunteers. I was the face of the clinic. I kept some visitors from entering when they expected a booster and we didn’t have permission to do so. We had a door for first and second shots and another door for third shots, back when the third shot was only for those with immune system compromise. We wanted to keep those people separate, and I could do that outside.  The numbers weren’t large, but I had a chance to explain to people what the difference was between third shots and boosters.

When boosters were allowed, we had people in line with appointments as well as walk-ins. I was at the initial checkin desk, busy, lots to do, to say, and tried to move patients with their clipboards to where they could fill out information. The line outside didn’t concern me. I figured it never would, but those in that initial role were later required to have access to the state database of vaccinations, and I didn’t qualify. I went back to checking registration, unless there were enough doing that, at which time I became the greeter. The line then did concern me.

When the Moderna boosters began, we had nearly 1000 people a day for the first week. Greeting people individually was no longer feasible with 50 appointments scheduled every quarter hour. We weren’t going to be at the clinic the first day of shots, but I suggested beforehand the lines be separated into appointments and walk-ins.  On the second day, my wife and I were assigned to the nearby drive through line.  When we walked towards “the barn,” for our late morning early afternoon volunteer shift at the clinic, I said, “Oh my God,” looking at a 75 yard long line of people outside, inside another 10 yards to the check-in desk. As we walked past the line, I heard several complain, “I have appointments and walk-ins are going ahead of me,” “Appointments don’t matter here.” That hurt. 

Inside, we learned that two lines were tried but, “it didn’t work.”  I didn’t buy it, but in any case had to go to the drive through shot clinic that day, the first one in nearly five months, only three lanes, not fourteen.  The weather was sub-optimal, rain and moderate wind, but we had 30 vehicles come through, a lane for Pfizer, one for Moderna, and one for all vaccines as a spillover. I was back in outside registration and liked it.  

My wife had a few more vehicles in her line, and I was free, so I walked back over to the clinic, where the line was still about a third as long as it was. I started telling those in line there was a drive through clinic 100 yards west of the building.  One person with a bicycle asked if it were faster. I nodded.  Another asked if she could walk through it. I said yes. Several others left the line to go to their cars and headed over to the car line.  I apologized to people in the line, saying that “we are going to fix this, but unfortunately that won’t help you today. I’m sorry.”  

The line emptied, as if I had just mentioned free beer next door, and the car line became busier, which is exactly what the vaccinators wanted.  I returned there in time to see the bicyclist get his shot and later to help the person who walked through.  

After the clinic was over, I went to the registration lead and asked if we could have two separate lines the next day, one for walk-ins, one for appointments, with appointments prioritized about 6 to 1.  I was going to hike that day, but I cancelled as this was more important, volunteering to be greeter. 

We had two lines, a much shorter walk-in line and a long appointment line. My wife worked outside; I at the doorway.  The clinic got an early start, so several with appointments were seen well before their appointments. The walk-ins were all seen, since they were not interfering with anyone with an appointment. We held our own for 45 minutes, and then it got busy, as we had insufficient capacity for 200 people an hour. The line got larger, but it never was more than half the size it was the prior day.

I certainly got complaints—three to be exact—that the walk-ins were getting priority over the others. The comments were about unfairness, and after the third such, I said, “Look, I joined the Navy in 1973 , and two months later, they abolished the draft. That wasn’t fair.” That got a good laugh from the line, full of people in my generation  We worked solidly for 3 1/2 hours, my juggling both lines, and the line inside the doorway behind me with a lot of “See that person over there? When they vacate that spot, you take it.” They could see and move; I could concentrate on others.

The following day we ordered people by the time of their appointment. The morning went well. We had the line expand in the late morning, but it got into control, and I had time to eat lunch without 5 minutes between bites. When I returned to the front door of the clinic, my wife, also working there, came up to me, “It’s a real mess out there. Nobody was managing it while you were at lunch.”  I went outside.

There were two lines of about twenty each. I turned to the line on my left, the appointment line.  “How many of you are walk-ins?” I asked. Half raised their hands. 

I then turned to the right, the walk-in line, and asked, “How many of you have appointments?”

Half raised their hands.

I then lifted my arms over my head and crossed them, so the hands were facing opposite directions.  

“Everybody who raised their hand, please change lines.”  Problem solved. The following day, I was volunteering in the woods, and I learned afterward that three lines were tried, and it was  the worst of any of the days we had, people lined up 100 yards from the door.  

On the last day that week, I was the greeter with no help. The first thing I did was talk to the security person in the parking lot. He explained what happened the previous day and what changes had been made.  He had a direct line of vision to the drive through clinic and could see how many cars were waiting, so he could know when it might be feasible to send more people in cars there, rather than through the line. He suggested two lines, not three, which made sense. 

We opened early, prioritized appointments, and allowed walk-ins when we had time before the next appointment group, otherwise about a 6 to 1 ratio of appointments to walk ins.  One person complained, and I didn’t agree with her, but I kept silent.  One man told me I had the most difficult job there. He might have been right. In the clinic, helping those in line to get in is minor.  But if it is handled well, people stat the process with a decent frame of mind, which is what we wanted.

Deming said to optimize the system. Listen to those involved and value their opinions.  Every job is worth doing well.

And no, life isn’t fair.


October 25, 2021

“Let’s leave our packs here and go ahead down the trail to get the last one. It isn’t far.”  My crew leader motioned me to go ahead of him.  I left my pack, and I felt strange without it.

Worse than strange.  Not right. 

I walked ahead anyway.  We were doing a simple logout of the Betty Lake Trail, a flat, 2-mile long popular hiking and winter trail that connects the Waldo Lake Road to the trail that goes around Waldo Lake, so this was a power saw job, although earlier I started to remove with my hand saw a small 4 inch log dug into ground, and when that bound up, used my axe. The log ahead was our last log of what was going to be an easy day.  

Small unnamed lake near the Waldo Lake Wilderness

Power saw logouts are easier in some ways for me, harder in others. I have not been sworn at on a crosscut logout. Well, almost. We were pulling a stuck saw up out of a log a couple of months ago, not stuck because of what I did, and my partner, the saw’s owner, freaked out that I was pulling too hard and would break the saw. (It wasn’t too hard and I didn’t break it.)  I have been sworn at and publicly shamed on a power saw logout. Everything there is potentially more dangerous. There is a fast moving chain with teeth, rather than a slow moving piece of steel with teeth. One can damage a power saw faster and easier than a crosscut by hitting a rock or ground, and if a bind is not properly appreciated, one learns very quickly, as opposed to much cracking and splitting that precedes the answer when a crosscut is used.

Staying well back. The ribbon on the axe sheath helps me find it.

But break any log under a great deal of tension with either, and the speed of the released log and its kinetic energy, a function of the mass and the square of the velocity, is unchanged.  A large log can move 15 feet in a split second. I’ve seen it.

I hadn’t swamped for several months with a power sawyer, but the rules were unchanged: I stayed 12 feet back; some sawyers want me back as much as 20. Each has his or her own rules. I checked overhead, looked around. It’s easy to get focused on the cut, but I needed to look where the cutter wasn’t looking to make sure there were no snags that could come down, no hikers coming up the trail, the log being cut wasn’t moving inappropriately from some other log we hadn’t seen.  If wedges are needed, I have them available and the axe to pound them in with. A year earlier, as I went by a log a sawyer was going to cut, I noticed another log on a slight incline perpendicular to to the one we were going to cut. When the cut log fell, the secondary might roll, and if so, there was only safe way to deal with it. The cutter didn’t see the secondary log, which was partially hidden from his view, so I yelled to him to move over to my side. Being a bit gun-shy, I couched my words carefully, “You might want to be on this side when you cut.” The cutter moved over, cut the first log, and immediately the second log, much larger, rolled down over the trail where he had just been.  I got thanked for that one.

As I walked, I became more uncomfortable.  The trail went downhill, and the “short” distance was longer than I expected. I didn’t like being without my pack out here. Eventually, I reached the log in question, forty vertical yards below and five hundred trail yards further from where I started.  The log was cut, and there were no problems.

I was relieved and could not wait to get back up the trail to my pack. I had just made a bad decision and had gotten away with it.  Such a result doesn’t retrospectively make the bad decision good. It wasn’t. The probability was low there would have been a need for my pack, and everything worked out.  But it might not have. That was the second bad decision I made with my pack this year, leaving it to go elsewhere.  I dropped it to power brush, because carrying extra weight plus a power brusher, going uphill, was fatiguing.  A mile later, I had no pack and the group was still ahead of me. I had to go back, retrieve my pack, return, then have lunch. It was a short day, and the group was returning after having eaten, so I had to again return along the trail. Bad decision. I don’t like making bad decisions.

Not having a pack with me meant if my partner had an accident, I had no radio, no pressure bandage, no Pulaski (I did bring my axe), no way to get help. A simple day, a simple log, would have just become a major problem, preventable and frankly inexcusable.  I should have spoken up, or at the least gone back and put my pack on. I know better.  Out there, we all do. The only decision I should make is whether to fasten the belt buckle and the chest strap when I put the pack on or leave them unfastened because the distance to the next log isn’t far.  In either case, I have a pack right near me with everything I need. It’s difficult enough to do first aid in the woods; it’s shameful to have brought everything out then not have had it accessible because one was lazy and didn’t want to carry a small weight a quarter mile further.

So from now on, the pack stays with me. I will listen better to my gut feelings and act upon them.  Yesterday, I had a planned personal “this is a drill, this is a drill, saw accident, saw accident” moment in the driveway at home, where I emptied out the first aid bag from my pack to see what I have and don’t have. I really didn’t know for sure.

Turns out that I was in decent shape, but I had a few things I could add to the bag which would make it better: I didn’t have scissors or a knife, I discovered an ice pack I could use, a tube of antibiotic ointment, and some mole skin.  The clotting powder, splint, dressings, two Israeli bandages, and wraps were all there.


October 17, 2021

The first log after lunch, 19 inches across, would turn out to be our last log of the day, before the three mile hike back out of the Mt. Washington Wilderness with all our gear. The diameter didn’t include bark, because there was no bark on it and there hadn’t been any for years. The tree burned in 2010 during the Scott Mountain fire and fell some time last winter. I know that for a fact, because I had cleared the trail in this spot last year and this log was not present.  

Chris took the sheath off his 5 1/2 foot long crosscut saw, laying it by the log. We had about 2 inches of ground clearance, so we wouldn’t be able to cut from below if we needed to. The log would probably have top bind or compression, meaning we would need a hard plastic wedge to keep it open, and being fire hardened, so the wood would be denser as well.  We wouldn’t see the nice “noodles” that the rakers on a saw generate on a greener tree, rather small pieces of sawdust.  Nor would we see the change in color of the sawdust as we neared the bottom of the log, when we were again cutting bark, because there was no bark.

Noodles, Diamond Peak Trail

We planned to do a straight top cut without a miter, or a slight angle to the z-axis or vertical plane, but opening the cut to the south, so we could push the log to the south, which happened to be away from me. Chris moved the saw on the log making a small scratch in the whitish surface, and I pulled back gently. The saw moved towards me then away, as I relaxed and Chris pulled.  I knelt on the ground on one knee, raised the other leg, and made sure I was “giving” him enough length of the saw so he could pull as many teeth through as he could.  Then I pulled back and tried to do the same, keeping the saw aligned with the rapidly forming kerf or cut in the y plane, tilted slightly in the z-axis and making sure viewed from the side or x-axis I wasn’t too low compared to Chris, for I have the tendency to pull down as I cut, rather than let gravity do the cutting.  I was satisfied with my position and my saw position. 

As we cut, the saw had a pleasant sing to it.  The melody wasn’t perfect, because the wood was a little punky, or rotten.  But there was no extra work because of bind, at least not yet, or poor positioning of the saw.  Back and forth, ONE/two, THREE/four, FIVE/six, SAW/ing, SAW/ing, FIN/ish, FIN/ish.  The kerf opened quickly on the top, before opening more slowly as the saw moved through the vertical part of the log, the wide part, where we cut through the most wood, and before the curve of the log at the bottom shortened the distance we had to cut.

So far, so good, I thought.  We almost have the whole width of the saw in the kerf, in the log.  If we can get another inch or two without binding, we can put a wedge in to keep the kerf open.  Right now, the wedge would hit the saw and stop it completely.  Back and forth,
FIFTY/seven, FIFTY/eight. I sometimes counted, other times used song lyrics. This time of day, our legs were tired, we were having trouble holding positions, the ground wasn’t comfortable, although my knee pads helped  I would raise a hand or grunt when I needed to take a quick break. We had a third person with us, but I wanted to do this cut myself. 

The third was 10 feet away, using an axe to try to break the log loose where it had cracked.  Fortunately, his work wasn’t affecting the bind of the log, although finally I noticed that it was getting harder to saw, so I said, “let’s put in a wedge.”  I reached into my back pocket, where I keep two orange Wells wedges, pulled my axe out of the log where I had it, and pounded a wedge in with the poll or back part of the axe, giving the wedge a few whacks with the 1.5 kg Swedish steel poll.  Nice sound, when the wedge moved.  If it squeaked or made a metallic sound, the wedge was too close to the saw. It would hold the kerf open.

If the kerf opens up as one cuts, one can tell because it remains easy to cut.  If there is a grating feeling, there may be a knot in the wood that one is cutting through, either internally or externally. I remember a year ago not telling my partner I had routed the cut on my side through a knot.  I hoped he wouldn’t notice, but the sound and the feeling of the cutting was obvious to him, and I had to ‘fess up. When someone else is pounding in the wedge, I do two things: duck my head so the hardhat is facing the direction the wedge may fly off if it is not struck properly; I also move the saw handle back and forth in the kerf to see if it starts to feel looser, which it should if the wedge is doing the job of keeping the kerf open.  

With a bigger log, 25 to 30 inches in diameter, we replace the top wedge with two at the 11 and 1 o’clock positions.  We may add two more laterally. Each has to be pounded in periodically.  Ideally, one stops sawing to when the axe is used. It is a brief break, and I can feel if the wedges are helping. But sometimes the person with the axe goes ahead and pounds while we are sawing. One of the reasons I spent a little more money on the Hults Bruk axe was that it was the perfect weight for pounding in wedges. Hit plastic with that poll, and good things happen. I noticed the change immediately. Some use the end of a Pulaski handle or a hatchet, but the day I was swamping for a chain sawyer, and took out my axe, he nodded approval.

We were close to the bottom now, and we shortened the stroke and lightened our touch. We absolutely did don’t want the log to drop, carrying the saw into the dirt.  As we got closer, and the sound changed even more, I suggested we pull the handle and remove the saw. This requires loosening the handle, then pushing on the pin holding the handle to the saw, removing the handle altogether. Then the saw may be pulled though the kerf and removed, and the handle reattached.  I took out my KatanaBoy 500 and finished the cut myself, needing only a half dozen strokes, before the log cracked and fell.  We were half way through. 

The second half would be similar, except the log was resting on the ground, and we had to move the handles 90 degrees when we got near the end of the cut, so the handle itself wouldn’t scrape the ground.  We finished the cut with the KatanaBoy.  The log was cut all the way through. We hoped it would be movable, but sometimes the cut part is wedged and has to be cut more.  Or, we hoped with wedges, an axe, or generally with two pairs of arms pushing, two or more pairs of legs if we needed more force, a strap if we needed one, we could move the log. This one moved with a slight push, and we escorted it out of the area. There was now open trail.

The burned area kept on giving us work each year, as wind and rain caused other dead trees to fall across the trail. We finished the 5 mile Hand Lake trail last week. I’d bet money there are are some new blowdowns. In the month interval between doing our two trips on the south side of the trail, there were two new logs. 

Job security. 

Hults Bruk axe/sheath, Pulaski, gloves, KatanaBoy 500, Corona saw, hand saw, loppers, sheath