Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Secret Lake the Faller Showed Me

Logged Area Surrounding Black Lake
I have known a few fallers.  As a boy, a timber faller, his dented orange hard hat and red checked jacket, talked to my father at the truck window about the way the earth thumps when the big trunks land. They were big trunks in those days. I watched the man step off the road, over logs, up the bank. His friendly wave before picking up his saw.  The tattered ends of his jeans lifting and dropping on his high shafted boots as he stepped over debris and slash. Dad started the truck, and we headed on to the fishing hole.  I turned in my seat to watch one of the trees at the edge of the cut fall down hill. The springiness of it as it landed.

A faller, his nostrils full of wood dust and the smell of chain oil, feels the power of internal combustion attached to a flying chain of blades, the challenge and exhilaration of dropping large pillars of carbon, tons of wood - the neck stretching openness in the canopy for the blue sky  to step around in fractals between the remaining treetops.

Plug for the gender mold. The archetypal-larger-than-life-macho-logger.  Steel toed boots, the heavy fabric of faller chaps stained with oil, the saw jamming fabric shirt brown with sweat and dirt, the constant current of danger like an eel in a river, the constant numbness in the arms from vibration, the finger tips buzzing.

After the saw is snuffed into silence, after the foam removed from ears, after the sky begins sucking away as much heat as the sun brings in, now low to the horizon - then he stops and ponders the beauty of the place, the funny way the cut opens the forest like an ancient story opens a deepness in the soul. The sweet smell of cut logs mixed with the minty crackle of gum. Good to end a day alive, and then go for a beer with the others in the warm loud span of laughter and forgetting.

A Fire Warden I met on a dusty logging road this summer on the hottest day of the year showed me a lake I could paddle on. His lake. One of his secret spots. He found it years ago when he was a faller. We sat in our vehicles, window to window talking about the changes in the forests - small contractors, more fatalities, a changing way of life. Companies from China securing fibre rights, converting mills to specialty products. And then, he said, he was married to a woman who was Chinese.

The walk to the lake was worth it, he told me, because he had saved a swath of old growth trees. The hillsides around the lake were covered in uniform carpet of new growth as I looked around after easing the canoe into the water from my shoulder.

The same familiar shortness of young trees. But along the edge of the water on one half of the lake a fringe of large trees. The faller's gift. He had asked the timber boss if they could be saved. The saws were already wining their way down the hill overlooking the lake, the trucks hauling away the big cellulose tubes. The boss said no, then a few days later, called back, "OK," he said, "The rest won't be cut." Sort of a miracle.

I paddled and admired the stand of old growth. At the south end of the lake, I tied the boat and walked in the shallow water.

The air was hazy with smoke from distant forest fires. The wind had been blowing earlier but had dropped. The shade of the massive trees seemed to provide an oasis from the heat and smoke.  The pattern of wave splash along the rocks.

They are rugged. They curse and spit and compete and joke. The rough company of men.  The guys who gave me a ride when I locked my keys in my Tracker a few years ago looked at me reluctantly from their Silverado LT 4X4. Working hard not to call me an idiot to my face. In the woods, regardless of how stupid someone is, you help him out.

Almost all the lakes I wish were protected, I accessed from the edge of a logging road. The patchwork quilt of cuts visible from space, and me disappearing like the speckles on a trout's back after you let it go.

on the hillside
a logger steps from log to log
hot saw swinging


  1. I swear I do not visit your blog often enough.

    It is said pictures speak a thousand words, yet for much I see a hundred or so would be fair payment... But for yours, among others, the thousand suggested is a veritable bargain price in trade, and undervalue your work perhaps tenfold or more.

    And to top it all off, your writing sets off images in my mind, so vivid and real, that they fuse into colourful vignettes, like watching old Kodak films on a projector screen. I can see, hear, and almost even smell and taste.

    You bring pleasure, wonder, and utter satisfaction to me at least, and likely the 27 others who are smart enough to follow your blog!

  2. BC seems like such a differnt world from the view of a easterner like myself. I really enjoy reading blogs from out on the wet coast, I hope to visit someday. That last shot is beautiful.

  3. Thanks David, I appreciate your kind words. I'm glad those photos convey some of the beauty I have been so privileged to behold.

    Lee, I hope you visit someday too. There is so much diversity in this wonderful land, both in people and in scenery. ;-)

    happy paddling!

  4. And on a funnier tangent, did you happen across the Ewok village purported to be hidden deep in those woods!

  5. Nice tale of the logger Richard, I loved my time in the woods :)Brian(:

  6. David,

    We ran into a fellow collecting mushrooms who said he had seen that very village on one of his trips but he was never able to find it again. We didn't inquire into which mushrooms he was gathering.

    Interesting note, we did see deer droppings on top of one of those logs that are 2 stories off the ground. Now that would be a picture!

    Brian, good to hear. You have seen the forest from perspectives many of us will never have. I appreciate how you find beauty on the inside of the tree, so to speak...

  7. Yep, this was a good post. Nice job Richard.

  8. I have just started reading "The Golden Spruce" by John Vaillant. There is not much difference in your style to his (from my point of view as a foreigner). Thank you for this almost lyric post.

  9. I have not yet read "The Golden Spruce," but have heard lots about it. I will now add it to my library call list! (I had a look at your recent blog post of your bookshelf). Holy cow. You have more canoe books than I have ever seen. I recognized a few, but seriously, an enviable collection.

  10. Congrats!
    Your blog has been chosen as one of the featured Outdoor Bloggers of the week on the Outdoor Blogger Network. The announcement post is up and your RSS feed is live on the site.
    Your blog is wonderful and we hope others discover it as we have. Well done ~
    Rebecca and Joe

  11. Thanks Rebecca and Joe, that is exciting to hear. the Outdoor Blogger Network is a wonderful service to outdoor enthusiasts and one I support and promote whole heatedly. I appreciate the feature!

  12. Hey Richard, well worthy of being recognized by fellow outdoorsians. Amazing words and pictures. Thanks. Bruce

  13. Hi Richard,
    Nice to see here that others appreciate your photos and writing as much as I do. I like the photo of the trees, looking straight up- it draws you upwards with them.

  14. This is one incredible post.
    What great pictures- I felt as though I was there!

    You lead a rather wonderful Outdoor Life.

    (Guess I would lock my keys in the vehicle too. you want to go back to the "other world"? I'd stay there!)

  15. Hello Richard,
    Tagged along after the heads up on the OBN, just like to say what a stunning post and pictures - makes my own efforts on this side of the pond look a little meagre - excellent job my man.

  16. This is wonderful writing and fantastic photography. Well done Richard.

  17. Richard, great post.

    As highschoolers I was part of an Environmental Awareness Program, we raised enough funds for the class to travel to the island and visit the Caramanah for a week.

    Seeing those giants humbled me then, and still does. That visit lead to my career in Forestry; something that I still do, more from a desk these days, but those memories and other field days, are never far away.

    Thanks for the reminder, there are still giants out there that need to be protected.

  18. Dawn,

    Yes, it is another world, gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "lost in the woods." I certainly feel that way sometimes, wanting to be able to just slip into some niche that would allow me to stay there forever, but alas,I like cameras and computers and the company of humans too much. :)

  19. John,

    Thanks for stopping by. Your offering is actually rather rich and hearty but I appreciate your humility.

  20. Bruce and Brett,

    Thanks for stopping by guys. I appreciate your kind words.

  21. Mike in Kamloops,

    Great recollection of the Caramanah. It was such a blessing when that area was protected, but you are right, there is still much more to be done.

    If you have not read Richard Preston's "The Wild Trees," I think you would enjoy it. It really brought home for me the importance of old growth stands for preserving not only their great beauty, but Lungwort, the forest's natural nitrogen fixer, and so much more. It's a pretty good story too.

    A new dilemma on Vancouver Island (and I imagine elsewhere) which we see in the Caramanah and Nimpkish areas, is massive blow down of old trees, partly because the stands are not large enough, but also perhaps because the storms are getting stronger...

    It is also heartening to hear of folks like yourself who are in forestry because they love forests. Bravo to you.

  22. Nos encantan los bosques y hemos disfrutado mucho con este precioso reportaje ¡qué árboles tan impresionantes!! es maravilloso que aún queden lugares así en el mundo. La fotografía es magnífica.
    Un saudo.

  23. Thanks Carmen,

    It is hard to convey how impressive these trees are, and I'm glad some of that came across. Given that it takes 300 years or so for them to reach maturity, without protection they will no longer get that big!