Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


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


October 2, 2021

First time I ever wore an N95 in the woods, I thought, puffing my way up the steep trail out of Blue Lake in the Diamond Peak Wilderness.  I was carrying a Pulaski, my work pack with 3 liters of water and lunch, three different hand saws, work clothes and heavy boots.  We had to climb 1000’ vertical to the ridgeline, where we were going to log out the central part of the Diamond Peak Trail in both directions from the junction. It was not Covid, but smoke that was the issue; humidity, heat, and exertion made wearing the mask impossible. I finally took it off.

Blue Lake

One of the first logs was 5 feet above the trail, which I wanted to ignore. But the Crew leader wanted to take it out. When he put the saw over it, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to cut that without a step stool.  I looked left, saw a much lower place where the log was resting, and convinced my partner we should cut there first.  We did, and the log eventually dropped.  We then worked on the original part, finally cutting it and moving it off the trail. 

The rest of the day included a great deal of difficulty in cutting out each log, which I learned, only the following week, was due to the saw’s not having been sharpened in 3 years. The issue wasn’t necessarily that I was weak; I certainly was affected by the heat. And using a dull tool.

When a 2-man crosscut sawyer bucks (cuts), the blades cut when pulled towards oneself. When the pull is complete, ideally when the opposite handle on the other side is near the log, the sawyer relaxes and lets the partner pull the saw the other way.  Relaxing doesn’t mean letting go but gently guiding the handle back to the log, like the heart in diastole, as the partner pulls. It is important to pull in a straight line, so the saw cuts straight. If one pulls to one side, the saw, being flexible, will bend, but the kerf or cut is narrow, and the saw teeth will no longer cut in the groove made by the rakers or mini-chisels that are on the blade with the teeth.  Used properly, the saw cuts smoothly and sounds better, too. The saw sings when all is right.

The author (back) on the Diamond Peak Trail, 2020

It is easy to pull to one side if one gets tired, the sawing position is sub-optimal, the log is difficult to cut because of bind or type of wood, or the saw itself is not sharp.  Most of the time I cut, it was a good day when nobody commented about my cutting. The most common comment I heard is “you are pulling,” which I took to mean I was pulling right or left. 

I have had a great deal of On the Job Training—OJT—but little teaching, and as a teacher myself, that bothered me. I had no mentor, the logs were plenty, and cutting them out was the priority.  I was then and even now usually the junior member of the Crew. Additionally, I was a newcomer to the state. Oregonians, I learned early from one person in the hiking Club, care about length of time here. In Arizona, where I previously lived, we joked that a native had been there 10 or more years. Nobody cared really how long one had lived there, and I don’t remember anybody’s talking about third or more generation Arizonans, but one hears often about multi-generational Oregonians. For the record, I am a native Californian, when the state was tied with Pennsylvania for second in population, and Kentucky had more people than Florida.  

I did my work, tried not to pull to one side, stayed quiet even when I could see, across the saw, that others were pulling to one side. I thought of mentioning that but stayed quiet, because perhaps I was wrong. Finally, on Diamond Peak Trail last year, I was cutting with my Crew leader while he was trying to carry on a conversation with someone else.  The cutting became more difficult, I saw my partner’s saw pulled far to his right, no question now, and said, quietly, “Hey Boss, you are pulling right.”

“Really?” Oh yeah. He was.

This year, two other issues came to light, both again on the Diamond Peak Trail. The first was dull saw. We proved it the following week when four of us were tackling the same log at the same time, I was on the dull saw, and with a head start, the pair with a good one finished before my partner and I were two-thirds done.

A month later, I was out with a crew member who joined a couple of years before I did, native Oregonian, mentored by one of the most experienced sawyers in the area.  We were cutting a large enough log so we couldn’t see each other, and at one point he told me that I was pulling.  I muttered something, relaxed my stroke slightly, and wondered how he could know I was pulling when he couldn’t see either me or the saw.  It didn’t make sense. I thought about that incident the rest of the day, wondering whether I had reached my maximum level of incompetence for the job, since I seemed to be doing better a year earlier, and 53 days out with the crew on a crosscut event ought to have made me fairly experienced.  

In the middle of the tangle

A week later, we were near the same spot, since there was an enormous tangle of downed trees to remove, along with some 30-inch diameter ones on either side. My group started with a pair of logs, one large and near the ground, a smaller one about 4 feet above the trail. Beginning with the smaller, I thought the cut was too close to the trail, thinking it was obvious if we cut there, when we cut the next log, the first would get in the way. We needed to cut it about 2-3 feet further away from the trail. My partner, an experienced C level sawyer, moved the saw a foot, not enough, I felt. We cut the log. 

Another view of the tangle. Notice the underbuck, cutting from below.

We then began cutting the bottom log on the opposite side of the trail, finished it, and turned to where we had been cutting earlier. It was obvious now to everybody, not just me, that the end of the first log we had cut was blocking the exit for the one we would be cutting. The other two in the saw crew took care of it, cutting it 2 more feet away from the trail.  

Sort of like I had suggested.  It’s like a doctor’s not listening to a nurse. Sometimes, the junior person is right. 

A more significant incident transpired on the following log, 30 inches in diameter. I was sitting as I pulled, and looking back on the incident, the saw was angling slightly towards the ground, rather than horizontal. For some reason, my partner corrected me using a phrasal verb for once: “You are pulling down.”

A light flashed. A voice in my brain, the part that runs mathematics so well, said, “z-axis.”

We were, after all, working in three dimensional space. It’s just that my pulling examples had always meant the xy-plane, left or right, and I equated pulling with that plane.  I was pulling down, and I might do that when cutting if I were sitting. It never seemed to matter. For the rest of the day, and there would be a lot more cutting, whenever I sat or knelt, I let the saw ride horizontally across the kerf, or the cut. Standing, I was fine, automatically.  Sitting or kneeling, I was not. That was the problem I was having.  Maybe there was hope, after all.

Pull is a transitive verb. It has an object that may take an adverbial prepositional phrase.  We live in 3-D space. Wood has three dimensions.  Please give clear directions. I am competent in both English and math.  With time, I may even graduate from an A sawyer to a B one. But I’m old; I can’t keep hiking up hills with a lot of tools and cut out logs many more years, N95 or not.

Occasionally it is possible for two pairs to cut on the same log, although driving a wedge in to keep a kerf open for one pair may increase the bind for the other. The top saw is steeply angled to the log in order to allow the cutter on the left to work.(The hypotenuse, however, is always longer than either of the two sides.)


August 10, 2021

I was the first one there. Oh man, What a mess.  There were three large logs on and over the trail, having fallen in just the right way (or wrong way from our viewpoint) to land directly on the trail, not across it, where we could make two cuts and be done with the log. Nope, one was chest high and over the east side of the trail, there were two on the ground in the middle, and at the south end were two more broken off logs, 15 feet long each. Most call this jumble a jackstraw; when scouting a trail, I referred to it as a “mess,” as I did above.

Several of the logs had branches that in themselves were significant work to remove with a hand saw. While I was waiting for the others to join me, I removed about ten of them.  Nothing could be done without their removal, in order to increase visibility of the log, and get a better idea of how it will behave when cut, and it is something that the first person there can do. Like vacuuming at home, or doing the dishes, one doesn’t announce to the others the completion of the job.  It is assumed someone will do it, and this time the job fell to me.

Working on this area is dangerous in at least two different ways: first, removal of the smaller branches is not major cutting, which means it may be done with less preparation and more unpleasant surprises as results. The second is with all the sharp protrusions, falling can be really nasty. Seeing these on a hike is potentially a hike ender.

Looking at the mess, we all just wanted to bypass it, for this area on the trail has had bad blowdowns for the last three years I know of, and the year before that the Crew spent 8 weeks on the trail and probably some right at this spot.  Last year, I spent three long days clearing the 6 mile trail. 

We were 5 and tackled the logs with a plan by splitting the crew in two and working from each end. This increased our production and kept us out of each other’s radius of danger.   Then, it was a matter of starting, focusing on the task ahead, not worrying about how long it was going to take. It would take a while. The day was going to be warm and smoke already present from fires south of us would give over to thunderstorms in the afternoon, but it was hazy already and humid. After hiking in nearly three miles in with full gear, we were plenty warm.  

Two other logs were across the trail about ten yards to the south, and they were dealt with by two cuts each. The larger logs parallel to the trail were cut in about 12 foot intervals, enough to be useful and still be manageable to move off the trail, where there was limited room due to thick brush and small trees adjacent.  We used my strap, a cut tree for a pry bar, and three pairs of hands or legs to move everything we cut.  There was a lot of discussion about where we wanted the log to go, what needed to be removed or done, and who would do what.

Plenty of work for everybody except the cameraman, who was taking a break. Note the haze.

Little by little we had more room, the trail began to be recovered, and we could start to see what needed to go and what could stay.  Fortunately, the logs were green enough to cut easily, and the only problem we had was a log that had cracked. Normally, one would think dealing with a cracked log would be less work, cutting through the crack, but that is a bad idea.  We tried to break the log apart with a Pulaski and ended up with the mass of wood fibers going in several directions, making a cut almost impossible and prying out the wood difficult enough.

Two 12 foot logs that were at the north end of the mess were pushed off rather unceremoniously.  Any way that worked we used, along with several methods that didn’t work.

After a morning’s work, we were left with two more cuts, one to make the trail a little wider, and as that occurred, we decided the second cut, which would do the same, was not necessary.  

Clearing the trail itself required the same philosophy.  There were hundreds of logs down, and each one needed to be evaluated, the cut planned and completed, and the log moved.  The only way to do that was one stroke of the saw at a time, one cut at a time, one log at a time, one bite of the elephant at a time.  Hand Lake Trail is famous for downed logs, because most of it had been burned over in 2010 in the Scott Mountain fire, and after several years, dead trees start falling over with the wind—or without it, for that matter. Every dead tree was a candidate for falling in addition to the live ones that had blown over. We would return here, but we weren’t sure when. Thunderstorms rolled in about 2, so we left, and lightning struck north of us in the Mt. Washington wilderness, starting yet another fire, leading to the closure of the trail the next day.

Hand Lake Trail in the burned area, 2020.

Hiking out of the Mount Washington wilderness. The Three Sisters are in the background, the volcanic debris from 1800 years ago is to the left.


July 16, 2021

While waiting to start the weekly hike up Spencer Butte, I watched a new person put her gaiters on her calves and ankles upside down.  Normally, I don’t correct people, but this particular issue was something she was going to want to get right. 

“I had a heck of time learning how to use those,” I said. “Let me show you the trick.” And I did. I learned about gaiters from watching people put theirs on. I learned about hikes, pronouncing certain words, names of tools, people’s families, interests, and much more from listening to others, often when I wasn’t part of the conversation.  She was grateful for the instruction and we’ve become good friends. 

When I started with the Crew, I first carried what was in my hiking pack. But I watched what others wore, what they carried, what they used. When I cut a finger, I had a bandage, but one of the others had some clotting powder, so I added clotting powder to my first aid kit. The other day, another guy used a small piece of wood to stabilize the Pulaski when prying up a log to make my cutting easier, so I am going to add a piece of wood I have had for some time and hadn’t yet added. I’ve watched good people cut, and I try to emulate them. If I am cutting and my partner changes, I know whether the new cutter is better or worse than the previous one. I have struggled cutting with one partner and then with a change either the wood got easier or the partner was better, usually the latter. I listen to the log, I watch the sawdust, the noodles, or curved pieces of wood that appear with a good saw that is being used properly.  I ask questions and if I don’t understand, I ask more questions.  

My pack has more things I need and fewer things I don’t need.  I never skimp on water.  I always throw in a rain jacket, even if it is 90 in July.  It can get cold at night if I have to stay out.  I now wear knee pads—and like them.  My shirt is white, so it shows dirt—and blood—but is cooler and has bug repellent.  I wear gaiters to protect my calves and to keep me dry in stream crossings. They have the side benefit of keeping my double-knotted laces from loosening when I walk through brush.

I have a KatanaBoy 500 and Corona hand saws in my pack. If we come upon a 4-6 inch log across the trail, I can deal with it without the saw carrier having to take off the shield and have it ready for two people to use. I can catch up.  I did a lot of that this past week.

It’s what I carry in my pockets that has had me become a go to guy in the woods.  In my right front pocket, I carry a small pocket folding hand saw.  It’s great when I want to do some trimming or minor cutting of a small branch that people walk into on the trail without having to take off my pack. It’s not a lopper, but I can use it as a pair of loppers. In my back pocket, I carry two plastic wedges.  When we cut a good size log, we often need to drive in a wedge or two to keep the kerf or cut open. Many carry wedges somewhere in their pack.  Invariably, they are cutting when they want one. After rummaging in packs more than once, I decided to put a couple in my back pocket, because when a wedge is wanted, it is wanted now.  It’s appreciated.  Sure, my wedges wear out faster from use, but they are cheap.  

I have my phone/camera in one pocket and a GPS in the other; the GAIA app on the phone gives me a second GPS. I’m the one who takes pictures. Anybody can do it, but nobody seems to other than me. So, I have a lot of pictures of crew members and virtually none of me.  That’s OK. I don’t go on Facebook, so I don’t need digital narcissism. The Crew likes the pictures. The founder of the Crew, who no longer can go out, likes them, too. He used to reply. Then the replies got briefer. Now he doesn’t reply, but I still send them.

I have a bottle of WD-40 in my pack. A couple of years ago, I saw a stuck saw in a log sprayed with it to see if it would cut better.  Some guys swear by it, others swear at it. I know, it is hydrocarbons in the forest.  I carried it for two years and one day took it out of my pack along with the wedges when we were doing a non-crosscut trail job and I wanted to keep weight down.  Well, sure enough, we had to cut out a root wad, and when the leader asked me for wedges, I had none.  When I got back to the car, I made sure I always had wedges and WD-40 in my pack, even though one crew leader will never use it. He was very clear about not using it—ever.

A month later, that same crew leader, while sawing a 36 inch log on Black Creek, a log that was exuding pitch like a leaking faucet, had his 7 foot saw get stuck and finally pulled out near the end of the cut, which was finished with a KatanaBoy. His saw had more pitch than a loquacious salesman, and he asked if anybody had some WD-40.

Guess who had it in his pack. I wish I had recorded his voice. Within seconds I was spraying his saw to dissolve the pitch that was fouling the blades and was going to foul his gloves when he tried to carry it. Nobody else had any.

Recently, we were part of a 15 person, 5 saw team with another crew, on Patjens Loop trail, a 7 mile hike through the Mt. Washington Wilderness, that cut out 140 logs, most of which were not big. Some of these could be moved off the trail by hand, others could be moved off by Pulaski, and I discovered the 12 foot strap I carried in my pocket could be used to pull a log off the trail.  If successful, pulling a log off trail may obviate one cut, in some instances, all cuts. If one is cutting out 30 to 40 logs a day, anything to avoid an extra cut is a big deal.

The first time I used the strap, nobody was interested. I put it on anyway and moved the log.  On others, with nobody around, I used it to good advantage.  After lunch, when we were more tired, and we had made one cut on a log, I took the strap out of my pocket, put it around the end, and two of us moved the log off the trail.  

Two logs later, we needed to get a cut log over a hump to move it off trail. I put the strap on it, two of us lifted, and that was that. Later, even more tired, people started looking to me for the strap. It took a few seconds to pull it out, was another means of lifting and pulling, where using only the legs is one-dimensional pushing. One of the other crew members offered to buy it from me. I told him it’s not like straps are real expensive at Jerry’s here in Eugene. The next week he came with his own strap.

We had a leaner that we left, because it was too much work to deal with at the time, significantly dangerous, and there was an easy bypass around it. As I looked closely at the leaner, someone asked, “anybody got red ribbon to mark this off?”

Of course I did.  I had thirty or forty feet of ribbon on a roll.  I saw someone who used it two years ago, then went to Jerry’s and bought my own. No problem.


June 19, 2021

Black Creek trail connects the lower elevation Cascade Foothills, about 3300’ elevation, to Waldo Lake, which 2000’ higher, is definitely in the high country.  It parallels the area where Klovdahl was going to build a hydroelectric plant using the water from Waldo Lake and a few thousand feet of gravity to provide water to the Willamette Valley.  Fortunately, that venture failed, and the one time I hiked Black Creek, the penultimate final outlet to the Salmon Creek, and then the Willamette, I didn’t see evidence of the work from a century ago.

The Crew got word that the trail was almost impassable due to fallen logs, some of them huge, so we scrapped the plans we had for other work, many of the places still having snow present anyway, and the next work day headed 22 miles out of Oakridge to the northeast, the last eight on a road studded with serious potholes.  The only other time I had been there it was buggy, the road equally bad, but it was apparently too early this year and at least there were no bugs.  We regrouped at the trailhead, divvied up equipment, having a 7-foot crosscut saw, a 5-foot felling saw, a couple of D-handles, Katana Boys, hand saws, loppers, Pulaskis, and even a Peavy, for turning and removal of large logs.  

We replaced a missing trail sign at the beginning, then within 200 yards entered the Waldo Lake Wilderness, immediately finding several downed logs to remove, crossing several small side creeks, all the while hearing Black Creek to our right, as we slowly ascended. I did extensive trimming, or brushing, with loppers, of the encroaching Vine maples and salal, and we slowly gained a few hundred feet of elevation the first mile, removing about a dozen log obstructions, either by saw, by foot, or both, making good progress, until….

Replacing a trail sign with a new one. I know some are not in favor of signs in the wilderness. This sign is still outside the wilderness. I don’t have strong feelings about signs; I don’t want hikers getting lost, either, which happens in spite of signage.

This log was mostly rotten and cut more easily. The person in the yellow helmet will soon need to move, as he is in the path of the log when it breaks loose. He knew that.

We encountered The Log.

At 30 inches diameter, I have seen many bigger. I helped cut a 36 inch one near the North Fork of the Willamette River three years ago.  This particular log was part of a 250 foot tall Douglas fir that fell across the trail, and we were cutting the middle part of the tree.  Both ends were out of sight from the hill above or the drop into the creek below.  Because of the moderate angle the log had with the trail, the possibility of end bind, where the sheer weight of the tree above the area we were working would compress the wood throughout the diameter, was a consideration.  Worse, there was little room underneath the log, so we couldn’t place a saw under it to underbuck or cut upwards, which is another trick for when the log binds, or “grabs” the saw when cutting.  

Binds are a matter of physics: if a log is bent convex upward, the top fibers are under tension, and cutting them will tend to be easier, and the log parts upward, often with unexpected force, so one needs to be careful, but at least the saw doesn’t bind.  Cutting on the opposite side, at the bottom, of such a log is cutting into compression, and there the fibers grab the saw, where one can no longer cut.  We will call that “bottom bind.” If the bind is bad enough, the saw gets stuck. This sometimes happens if one takes a long break while sawing. It only takes a few minutes for the compression to reform after a cut and fix the saw like concrete.  That can ruin one’s time schedule. It can be difficult to rescue the saw, and nobody but nobody wants to leave a stuck saw in a log, especially a chain saw. Aside from the expense and the danger, it is a rookie error.

Top bind is the most common, when the log sags a little, and it binds at the top, so we carry hard plastic wedges to hammer into the kerf or cut to keep it open. We may put in 1 top wedge, then maybe 1 on each side, and I’ve cut with seven placed. We keep wedges in a pack, but I additionally carry two in my back pocket, because it’s faster to give one to a sawyer than it is to rummage through a pack finding one. The 2-man crosscut saws have a way to remove the handle at each end, so that the saw may be slid through the log at the same level where the cut was to remove it.  Often, that solves the saw problem. Side bind is very dangerous as failure to recognize it can lead to the log’s appearing to explode right at one. I’ve seen a log suddenly part 15 feet to the side and have a video of it somewhere. Given the weight and the speed, this can kill.  Each cut has safe and unsafe zones. Sometimes, the unsafe ones are fine until the cut is well along, and at that point the cutter there must stop, get out of the way, and let the partner finish the cut.

End bind, which we faced, is bind throughout the cut. If one removes the wedge, one may see the kerf actually close in real time.  When this happens, we have to “chunk the log out,” which means making a second cut a few inches from the first, then use the adze end of the Pulaski to cut out chunks of wood, put the saw in at the new top of the log and cut again, on two sides, then repeat chunking. Each cut might be 2-3 inches before we bound up.  Divide that into 30, and there are a lot of stop-chunk it out-continue times.

We had an additional problem: to get any depth at all with the Pulaski, we had to cut in the middle of the two cuts, so we could remove any significant pieces of wood.  We were cutting the log three times, maybe 2 inches at a time.

I was part of a pair who worked further away for the second major cut, which gave the initial cutters a break.  With some effort, requiring my sawing for a good 15-20 minutes at a time not seeing my partner because of the log, the wood finally parted, the ease maybe due to some interruption in the end bind made by the first cut.  Or good log karma.  Anyway, I didn’t complain. 

Having chunked out half way. 

Using my rest time to take a picture of what I had cut through. Notice that it is impossible to see the other Sawyer. The handle has been rotated 90 degrees to keep it from digging into the ground. The saw needs to be pulled through as far as possible to get the sawdust out of the gullets, the large elliptical blank areas in the saw.

We had hoped that removal of the downhill piece would make uphill work easier, but it did not. We had to chunk out the whole diameter, periodically trying the 650 mm Katana Boy or my 500 mm one, my Corona hand saw, and two long saws we had. I think we felt anything new might be better, and the person trying it began with high hopes, only to realize that thick wood, bind, bad log karma, and fatigue would soon stop any measurable progress.

Eventually, we reached a point where the log started cracking, and we were able to crack it away.  We had gravity finally on our side, and when the log reached the edge of the trail, off it went, four pairs of legs against it to push it away. It will decompose elsewhere, recycling into new soil, new huckleberry bushes, new trees, and homes for insects worms, and other small forest life.

It took 6 of us 5 hours to remove The Log.  There were two or three more this size in the next half mile to Lillian Falls. We would be back the following week.

Leaving the job site. The end of a Peavey is in the foreground. The sharp hook and the point can be used for two sharp connections with the log, allowing one to pivot or move it. At least in theory. We did use it at the end of the job to move the log. We used every tool we brought.


May 22, 2021

So THAT was the rock Jim was talking about, around which he wanted me to dig out, because the trail would be safer behind the rock than the foot wide passage on the creek side, where a misstep would lead to a nasty fall.  There was a 10 foot formerly burned log on the adjacent hill that dived into the soil by the rock. What was I going to dig out?  The log was in the way, and nobody could go under it. 

The Rock

I had a Rogue hoe with me, not quite as good as a Pulaski for serious digging, but good enough in the soft soil of Fall Creek. I easily dug out what I could then stopped to think about the whole matter.

The Crew was restoring Fall Creek Trail, a national historic trail supported financially by some retired Forest Service employees and volunteers like us, who drove there on our own dime, with our own tools, and worked on our own time. On a somewhat drizzly morning, six of us crossed Fall Creek on a wet log well above the water.  I had been over this log a week before under dry conditions; this time I crossed crawling.  It didn’t help the previous night I awoke with a premonition I was going to fall off the log. I didn’t feel safe standing, and besides, I had knee pads. I crossed without incident.

Crossing the creek.

We hiked uphill a quarter mile, where we had logged out the week before, repaired several hundred feet of tread and began work from where we had left off.  I was sent to “swamp” (help) a crew member with a chain saw, so he could log out everything beyond to where the trail reached its highest point.  Once we did that, my job was then to descend to the creek and take care of rerouting around the rock and to repair a small piece of the trail that I had left several weeks earlier. I had been upset with myself about not having done more than place a small log with some rocks at the edge. The trail was not quite a foot wide, twice that or a bit more would be much more safe.   

The sawyer trimming before cutting the log. This would take three cuts plus a lot of smaller brush removal.

It was an easy hike down, I found the spot that needed widening, and a few yards later saw the rock and the log.  If I could deal with the rock, I could have lunch and then deal with the easier matter of widening the trail. But how?  I pushed on the log, and it at least gave a slight bit of motion.  I climbed up the steep, soft slope, grabbed some grass and put my legs into the log.  Not much happened, but I felt a little give.  

I returned to my pack and took all three saws I had, a small hand saw, a 14” hand saw, and my Katana Boy 500 mm saw.  I also took the thick cloth tape I had out of my pack, a wedge, and took another look at the bottom of the log.  I couldn’t cut out too far above it, because the whole log would come down on me.  But I could cut near the rock, so I began with the Katana Boy, finding it good for a while before it bound up.  I then switched to the 14” saw, finding some of the log rotten and easily flaked off. I stuck the wedge in and pried, removing more material.  I finally cut through, and the log shifted downward a couple of inches. 

That was encouraging, and I went up the bank and pushed some more.  The log moved a little, but not much.  I cut more off the bottom, tried pushing, and did it again.  Each time, the log shifted a little. I finally went up the bank and pushed, this time actually moving the log out of the depression it had formed. There was another burned out branch from a log that was holding up progress, so I removed that, too.  I pushed some more, and the log shifted about ten degrees. Now it had to be removed or marked as a hazard with colored tape, announcing to the world the person who had caused this was a rookie.  Couldn’t have that happen.

So, I pushed hard, and the log finally paid the gravity bill, slowly rolling off the hill to the trail, then bouncing off the trail, rolling down almost 100 feet to the creek.  All that remained was to clean up the soil that came down.  The bypass would be fine, and I was pleased with my result.  

Rock without the log with a bit more cleanup to do.

I ate lunch, listening occasionally to the chain sawyer working on logs back up the hill.  I don’t set out to eat lunch alone on trail crews, but frequently I end up in places where I do.  The creek was beautiful, the light rain more than welcome, and I had a big part of my job finished.

I then started widening the trail, working below the edge of the trail standing on loose soil, my knees anchored at the edge. With the hoe, I pulled plant material off the inner or “strong” side of the trail, easily getting into subsoil or mineral soil, which we wanted to have on the trail. The width was just over a foot, with places where erosion could easily destroy the whole trail.  I dug up small and large rocks, placing some at the “weak” or outer edge, piling the dirt at the edge and some of the grassy clumps as well, which retained their soil and I hoped would transplant. 

I was limited by large rocks on the inner aspect of the trail, which I couldn’t remove.  I also noted two lovely False Solomon’s seal plants in full bloom, right above the narrowest part of the trail.  Normally, we cut out plants; the ubiquitous Sword ferns were cut off along with Maiden Hair ferns with their black stems. They grow back quickly enough. There was a carpet of moss, too, which I hated to pull up, but I did and tried to place it on wet soil.

But I wouldn’t cut out the False Solomon’s seals.  They were the nicest I have ever seen.  So I let them hang over the trail, after photographing them and smelling the gentle, sweet smell they have. In a few weeks, they will have gone to seed and hopefully have spread their genes elsewhere.  Some time next year, we can come by with a power brusher and remove the dead stems and maybe see several big new plants.

I was finished here. The trail was wider, the bypass around the rock more than adequate, and the False Solomon’s seals saved.  When I told Jim that I had moved the log out of the way, neither embellishing my actions nor discussing the flowers, he just looked at me, nodded, and said, “Good.”


October 15, 2020

Steve and I looked at an 18 incher blocking the trail in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.  It had been down for awhile, the bark gone, which was nice, but needed to be removed. We both looked at the log, with enough space underneath to probably have a slight sag or top bind, meaning the cut from the top might start grabbing the saw as it cut through compressed fibers.  Well, that’s what wedges are for, to keep cuts or kerfs open.  He took the sheath off the 6 foot crosscut, and each of us took a handle.

We confirmed that we wanted to cut mostly straight through, and it didn’t matter which side we started from.  We both got into position, which for me was kneeling on the ground, worked the teeth a little bit into the log so they grabbed, and started sawing, pull smooth and hard, relax for partner, smooth and hard, relax, over and over again, 20, 50, 100, 200, 150, 100,….

It went well. First, I could feel how smooth the cut was. I could hear the saw sing a little, and could see the kerf, or the line of the cut, staying open, not closing, and I noted a good pile of sawdust accumulating with a few “noodles,” thin strips of wood that occur with a good saw.  Still, about half way through the log, I was thinking we could use a wedge to keep it open a little more, and Steve suggested it aloud.  I pulled an orange hard plastic wedge from my back pocket, because I like having wedges immediately available, and with a nearby axe, pounded it into the top of the kerf.

When a wedge opens up the kerf, anyone holding the handle of a saw that is in the cut can feel a decrease of compression: the saw is loose again.  We cut further, and finally got to the end, the log’s dropping part way to the ground.  The saw was wedged in the kerf, so I took off the handle, so I could pass the rest of the blade to Steve to pull it through the narrow space.  There was a time when I took a couple of minutes taking off or putting on a saw handle. Now, it is almost automatic.  Sawing with a well-known instructor, I once removed a wedge prematurely, which was met with one of those comments, “Oh, I wish you hadn’t done that,” because getting the saw out would be more difficult. Stuck saws are bad.  Sawing into the dirt is a sin. 

We started on the other side of the log, had the same experience, and that end dropped, too.  Sometimes, when both cuts are made, the log drops and if there is a downhill, immediately rolls off the trail without assistance.  That is nice. The trail was flat, and the cut log was still held in place.  I stuck a wedge between the cut part and the rest of of the log, hit it once with the axe, and the whole cut log dropped to the ground.  That was real nice.

We still weren’t able to push it, however, and weren’t sure how stuck it was.  We both sat down on the ground, put our legs against the log and pushed. This is easier on the back and allows one to use the strength of the legs.  The log shot forward about 6 feet.  That was super nice. We finished pushing it off the trail, and Steve sheathed the saw, ready for the next one. 

There are probably thirty folks on the Crew, but each work party has somewhere between 3 and 8. The first group I ever went out with had about a dozen, but this summer it has been mostly 3 or 4.  With three, one can get relief at the saw, which can’t happen with two. With four, one can have pairs leapfrogging each other.  With more, it is possible to do serious trail clearing.  The amount of sawing can still be considerable, as it was last week, when we worked solidly for about 6 hours, excepting a short lunch break.

I’ve been on the other side of a saw with many different people.  When I started, three years ago, any time someone asked me if I wanted a break, I said yes.  This year, I stopped saying yes and began offering my services. I’ve noticed a significant drop in the number of times my technique wasn’t optimal; indeed, one of the crew members told me the other day I was “so ready” for the saw certification class coming up, for which he had recommended me. 

A month ago, in the Diamond Peak Wilderness, the two of us were cutting out a log, when he was trying to give instruction to another guy in the crew.  He started pulling the saw to his left.  I can now feel when my partner’s technique isn’t quite right, and I said to him, “Hey boss, you’re pulling left.”  


“Yep.”  He was.  It was the first time I had ever told anybody, although I had seen it happen often.

Along the way, I have found people with whom I would share a saw any time and a few where I would just as soon limit my exposure.  Earlier this summer, one guy, who is a lot larger and stronger than I, told me that I needed to give him more saw, meaning that I was pulling more and not letting him pull it back. That seemed odd, since once we are done pulling, we relax, keep our hands on the handle, allowing our partner to pull the saw. With the new position, my hands were slammed into the log every time he pulled back.  I said maybe it was easier for him, but not for me, thinking that this wasn’t supposed to be a competition to see who could slam the other’s hands more.  

A couple of others tend to pull the saw to one side.  The saw has some flexibility, and if it is pulled to one side, it doesn’t cut cleanly through the log, making work harder.  One can’t simply close one’s eyes and pull-relax-pull. The saw must constantly be sight aligned with the kerf, which is the best real-time information we have as to what the bind of the log is.  If there is top bind, meaning the fibers are being compressed, as the saw cuts from the top, the fibers in the log will tend to compress or grab the saw, stopping progress.  If the kerf is opening up, we are cutting through tension, the opposite, and the cut will be easier, which one probably has already noticed.

Not only do I have more endurance, I hear, feel, see, and now beginning to sense what is going on. I can feel different types of wood as we are cutting, the difficulty caused by binding, I can see the noodles of cut log when the saw is sharp and the wood the right consistency, I can monitor sawdust, and I can see the change in color that heralds the end of the wood and cutting into bark. I can hear the cracking suggesting that the log is almost cut through.  Later that day, Steve wondered what he was feeling, looking over at my kerf.  I showed him the knot that we were too close to, apologizing for guiding us there.  I should have started the cut about an inch away.

It’s clear now what I need to take in the woods and where everything is. Indeed, my day pack has changed in part from the one I have used with the Club to one I use doing trail work, which is comfortable, and in which I have a better first aid kit, marking ribbon, extra wedges, clothing, lubricant, hand sanitizer, isopropyl alcohol, emergency supplies, a lopper, and a hand saw, food and water, and my Katana Boy 500 mm strapped to the back.

The author (back), Diamond Peak Wilderness. The wedge is keeping the kerf open, which is tending to close due to top bind or compression.

The author with one type of 2-man crosscut saw, S. Willamette Trail, March 2020.

Occasionally, it is possible for two pairs to cut simultaneously. Waldo Lake Wilderness.


July 25, 2020

Back in December 2010, my wife brought home a jet black kitten from the barn in Benson. The little guy had been wandering around in the stall area and clearly needed a home.  No mom cat was seen, so I got a call to get a room ready at home, my wife would stop by the vet on the way, and a few hours later, this small guy found himself in a warm room, with food, water, and a person who lay on the floor, two legs becoming a good place for him to lie.  He still does that.

The kitten did not want to be alone. He was an absolute feral hellion.  We dealt with it for two days, until my wife said there was an orange kitten down at the barn, too.  We had one of those discussions about a multi-year commitment—do we take this kitten, too?  Our first two cats were littermates, and they did fine and were not a lot of work.  We adopted three—now two—brothers, seventeen years ago, and they were easier to care for than one cat. 

We decided to capture the kitten, and the next day, after being pulled off the wall, put in a carrier, and hauled to the vet, another small, orange fluffy thing entered our house and promptly hid in a bathroom drawer.  She—for she was a she— was found under the paper in the drawer, some place that looked impossible to be, but she was found with the Sherlock Holmes approach that whenever everything else is completely ruled out, what is left, no matter how improbable, is the answer.

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SoFi and Bad Boy, December 2010

We called her SoFi, with that spelling being the German term for eclipse: Die Sonnenfinsternis, or just SoFi. I was beginning to learn German at the time, and I wanted a German name for her. And so SoFi entered our lives, found her brother, Bad Boy, because there wasn’t a day then–or now, for that matter– that he wasn’t bad, the two of them entertained each other, and my free time at home soared.

The two kittens played with each other, slept with each other, and were fine, so long as we didn’t try to catch them.  Bad Boy sat on my legs; SoFi never did. Touching her was a big deal. One weekend, her poop got stuck on her hair between her legs; my wife was working in Phoenix, and I had to wait 24 extra hours until she got home. Both of us were miserable waiting. Together, we caught SoFi in a kitchen cupboard and barehanded cleaned her, getting nasty scratches in the process.  We had annual vet appointments, but we had to first capture them, which we did by cornering them some place.  Bad Boy gave up easily. SoFi did not. Later, she discovered a kitchen drawer accessible from below and slept there. Once we knew she liked the spot, we would check by gently testing the drawer.  If it felt stuck, there was a cat in there.  At first, both of them would stay in there, but as they grew, there was room enough only for her.

When they were three, we moved, and the high point of the packing was catching SoFi in fewer than five minutes. She traveled well to Oregon but disappeared in the new house.  We knew she hadn’t gotten out, but where she could hide was anybody’s guess.  I went into a closet and opened a nightstand to get something out and by chance discovered the bottom of it felt a little too warm.  I checked underneath it on the back, and found SoFi wedged in it. 

The first summer, whenever I took a shower, I sat on the recliner afterward to read. SoFi would jump up on the back, put her paws around my forehead, and lick my wet hair.  I didn’t dare move suddenly, or I would have had halo marks on my skull, like those who have to have their necks immobilized.  

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The recliner is about 45 years old and has survived about two dozen cats. It is falling apart, but when we moved, it never occurred to us not to bring it.

She and Floyd, a tuxedo male who came from a hoarder, had an unusual relationship. He was neutered, she spayed, but Floyd looked at SoFi as a girl friend.  They would sleep together at times; at other times, SoFi was pinned down by him, finally growling and wriggling loose. 

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When she was 8, we were able to catch her to clip her paws, a major step forward.  Later that year, she started allowing us to pet her.  We had two new cats come into the house; SoFi did not like the female, staring at her, trying to get around the gate we had set up, and being basically obsessed with grabbing her.  We called SoFi “killer.”

But as annoying has having a gate in the middle of the house came a very different change. The Killer allowed me to pet her, first where she was sleeping, and then I was allowed to pick her up and put her on my lap, much to our surprise.  She liked having her cheeks rubbed, and she purred and wanted as much of it as she could get.  After 9 years, she was becoming a house cat.  She would meow and quiet down only if I stroked her in the right spot.  All those years she could have had that if only….

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Only took 9 years with Killer to be able to do this without needing a transfusion.

During the pandemic, all the cats got far more affection than they did normally.  In mid-April, Floyd died after a short illness that appeared to be lung cancer.  SoFi seemed fine afterwards.

And was until a Sunday morning in June when she suddenly stopped eating and had some vomiting. This occasionally happened with a hairball, but that evening, she screeched and vomited.  The next morning, we found her in a corner where she had never been before.  She was taken to vet emergency where they found her in moderate renal failure with a phosphorus level off the charts. Her white count was low with some odd looking cells suggesting perhaps leukemia, and the vet recommended euthanasia.

I was stunned, so much so that I had to think about it for a couple of hours.  How could a cat so happy two days ago be dying?  I realized that as much as I wanted the lab repeated, it would not be for 24 hours, and she was not going to be any better. That afternoon, SoFi died.

SoFi’s loss, along with that of Floyd, at 14, made a house with a lot of cats suddenly appear very empty. Every time I fed the cats in the morning, I found myself looking at the dining room table, where SoFi wanted to be fed. I still see her flying through the air, landing on the climbing post, ears back, attacking the sissel.  

We have old cats now, and we will have more deaths sooner rather than later.  This was one death I wasn’t expecting, not that any are easy. 

Another at the Rainbow Bridge to meet.

While a cat can never be replaced, we did have a vacancy, and the Humane Society had many who needed a home. Flick, the third cat we have had with a name from “A Christmas Story,” joined us. We can’t save them all, but like the man throwing the starfish back into the ocean, we can save that one.

And a little bit of ourselves, too.

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