A Chainsaw is a Girl’s Best Friend

I carefully held the snarling beast in my hands, making precise vertical cuts to relieve side bind in a practice tree.  I nudged the tip of the saw in, avoiding the zone of maximum kickback around the top of the tip. Saw curls flying, I cut a little deeper at each pass, watching the log move as it gave up its compression bind.

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Working it with David Roe (Terry Hill photo)

I already had more than a passing acquaintance with the log.  We follow the U.S. Forest Service guidelines for OHLEC, a relatively new acronym describing how to approach and execute cutting a log (or standing tree, but we generally don’t do that in the PCTA).  The tree, felled by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, was supported on three points, wedged between two other trees.  Working in a burn area, I’d determined hazards, plotted my escape route, and decided on a cut plan.  Trees held in unnatural positions tend to move a lot when cut, and if you don’t relieve tension and compression, you might have a bad day when you unleash all that force.

Working under the guidance of an expert sawyer, I finished my relief cuts, and lifted the saw high on the log on the center cut.  I worked it on the dogs (teeth near the power head on a chainsaw), slicing down through the log at full throttle.  When it finally gave, it still moved two feet away from me, faster than my eyes could register, as the other end dropped near my steel-toed Danner logging boots.

If I’d just cut that log from underneath and above without regard to the side bind and which side I stood on, the log could have moved even faster and farther, straight into my torso with more than enough force to crush me. Thankfully my expert instructor, David, had explained each step along the way and we worked very safely.

I was attending Trail Skills College, an annual event held in Cascade Locks by a consortium of Trail Stewardship organizations (PCTA, WTA, and others) over a three-day period.  Friday, I’d re-upped my First Aid and CPR for another two years in another course.  It was my first time taking first aid with an eye toward the kind of injuries we might see working on Trail Crews.  I finally learned how to use an AED and performed CPR practice on ‘Bob’, until my arms and abs were toast.

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Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up! 🙂 

Saturday’s class was Chainsaw 104, the most complete instruction on chainsaw operation, maintenance, and safety that I’ve ever taken.  We first learned all the parts of the saw, and how they worked. We broke the saws down into parts, learning how to change the bar, chain, air filter, and spark plug.  We learned how to fuel and oil the saw, how to clean and lubricate the clutch and bearings.  We covered different types of chains, and how they behave differently in use. After lunch, we practiced sharpening and reassembly.  I had owned my own 20-inch bar Stihl Pro saw years ago, and had never peeled back so many layers into how it actually worked.]

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Sharpening vise for chainsaw (Terry Hill photo)

Our last lesson was in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for chainsaw use, from helmets to ear protection, leg chaps, gloves, and face shields.  I’d brought my own, newly acquired helmet with integrated ear protection and face shield, and chaps.  We spent enough time on all the likely awful things that can go wrong, even if you’re following all guidelines. Chains can break, saws and trees can do unexpected things.

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A Chainsaw Surgical Team 🙂 (Terry Hill photo)

 

At the end of our class, all the saws were fueled, oiled, chains sharp and snug.  We were ready for some practice on Sunday.

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If you need to cut some logs, this group can definitely help out (Terry Hill photo)

Sunday threatened rain as we drove to Wyeth Campground for Chainsaw Practicum 297, our goal to work on logs near the #400 Trail.  After introductions, we split into three smaller groups.  Before we headed up the trail, we each started our saws to make sure they ran.

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Hey, it runs even after I took it apart and put it back together the day before! (Terry Hill Photo) 

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Obstacles on the way to work (Terry Hill Photo)

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That’s what we call a ‘complex’ log problem across the trail.  We did not cut these logs on  Sunday, due to the degree of hazard, including triggering another rock and landslide. Some problems do not have immediate solutions. We cut steps into the logs with chainsaw and axe to make them easier to cross for hikers. (Terry Hill photo)

David, our instructor, selected our work area and started asking questions to gauge our baseline knowledge. I’ve done a lot of crosscut logout work parties, so none of the questions about the logs were new to me.  Throughout the day, David gave me more and more complex problems to solve, ramping up the difficulty to see where I was.

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Our private lesson (Terry Hill photo)

The biggest difference between using a crosscut vs. a chainsaw is everything happens in real time with a chainsaw.  With a crosscut, you can hear feedback from the log, feel subtle shifts through the saw, and see it move (usually slowly).  Cutting with a chainsaw, you’re through so quickly, you need to be more attuned to the feedback and visuals.  Having a motor adds convenience to techniques like offside cuts, where you cut vertically across and down the log to avoid standing on the business side of the tree (the one that moves in a bound log).

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Practicing a ‘V’ cut for a high log, so as you cut from underneath and drop it, it won’t let go all at once due to top bind. You can lower it pretty as you please cutting from underneath. 

My last log of the day was much harder to read, definitely side-bound as evidenced by the long curve of the log, but very hard to tell what else was going on. Sometimes logs are twisted under load just resting, or when you release the end with the root ball, they can suddenly roll at you.  As I made my five side bind relief cuts deeper, the kerf (the slit made by cutting with a saw) opened at the top and closed on the bottom, telling me more about what it was likely to do upon release.

I finished the top cut and the log still moved suddenly several feet away from me, a consequence of being bound up between several trees.  I expected and predicted the behavior, so it wasn’t a surprise.   David complimented me on my feel and technique, telling me that cut was a classic certification problem used on a ‘B’ level sawyer cert.

I’d refueled and added oil twice already, and five hours of cutting was taking its toll on my grip, my forearms, and my focus.  We wrapped up our day, packed up our saws, and headed out.

Tomorrow, I’ll be heading out again with a PCTA work party, into Eagle Creek Trail from the Gorge end.  Other volunteers have carried temporary planking three-plus miles in so we can (safely?) cross the Fern Creek Bridge, and remove logs with chainsaws, between there and High Bridge.  I’m so fortunate to have had this training, and the opportunities to use it.

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Eagle Creek Trail before the 2017 fire, near High Bridge

It will be a long day, hiking in with saws and supplies to feed them, and removing so many trees.  I could be out skiing, hiking, or snowshoeing somewhere else, but I wouldn’t miss this opportunity to give back to the places that have given me so much joy.  This is the work that will, along with many other days, get the trail opened again in 2019.

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Newly open trail makes me feel pretty happy at Herman Creek Bridge, June 2018 (Kate Curry photo).  I walked across this bridge carrying a load of tools so many times the prior six months. 

I wouldn’t miss that for the world.  Last year I spent weekend after weekend working with the PCTA on the closed PCT and nearby Herman Creek Trail, which reopened finally on June 15th, 2018.  Kate and I took two ‘Victory Lap’ tours of the PCT/HCT loop, a lovely longish day hike at ~26-27 miles and 5700′ e.g.

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Looking back at the PCT from HCT in the late afternoon

Next September, I hope we can do the same, but loop up Eagle Creek then down the PCT.  Then do it again in the other direction, just for good measure.  It will be glorious.

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Hiking until dark, and then some (Kate Curry photo) 

Helpful Links:

Eagle Creek to Wahtum Lake Hike 

Pacific Crest Trail Association Volunteer Information

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My Beautiful Burrito

Oh Burrito!

Your warm, soft shell in my hand feels so grand

Beans and tempeh, in perfect alignment

Steamed by your spinach, I want you so!

I long for your hot and spicy ways

Miles I’ve walked, just to sample your saucy delights!

Unwrapping your foil eagerly, my lips feel your heat

No souls suffered today or died,

That we might have this moment of vegan rapture

My breathing quickens, and you’re finally in me

Cosmic bliss and waves on the beach,

You fill me and slay my hunger again

Until next time, my beautiful burrito!

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Like a Virgin

You always remember your first. Oh, I’d had others, sexy German coupes and cute Japanese gas misers, but they were never truly mine, they were beholden to another. I found myself carless at eighteen, and needing transport, on a very low budget. My Dad, he knew a guy from the airline. His Mom had passed and he had the proverbial ‘only driven to church on Sunday’ car, almost twenty feet long and certainly squatting on valuable driveway real estate. He wanted it gone, money changed hands, title signed, and just like that, I was a car owner. Like a lot of virgins, I took his sales pitch at face value, something I would soon regret.

A massive piece of domestic iron hadn’t been how I pictured my first, but the price was right, and I then drove a car with white line tires, a landau top, and rear wheel drive. The 1967 Chevrolet Caprice Classic is a microcosm of the society that spawned it, a Brady Bunch-sized automotive expression of 1960’s American excess. Three manspreading bros could sit across the back seat and never touch, manliness intact. My friends and I chucked all our gear into the trunk, it was so large it swallowed 200 cm slalom skis with room to spare.

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Even the terminology used to describe it is so period perfect in its grandiosity. It had a ‘Turbo Fire’ 327 cubic inch Chevy small-block V-8 engine, which had no turbo. It sported a ‘Turbo Hydramatic’ 3-speed automatic transmission, which had nothing to do with a turbo. The new “Astro Ventilation system” consisted of adding dash vents and removal of the wing vents. Push-button presets on the AM radio were a big deal, because you didn’t have to turn the dial to every station.

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Instrumentation was pretty sparse by today’s standards. An optimistic 120 mph speedo sat between the gas gauge and a clock, paired with an AM-only radio. A period advertisement lauds the smooth operation of the ball-bearing equipped ash tray, “To keep tempers calm.” Can’t have Dad throwing yet another anger fit over a sticky ash tray, can we?

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The car that gave me freedom quickly became the taking car. New tires, plus a pair of snows for the rear pilfered my puny bank account. I redid the rear brakes, a nightmare learning experience never to be repeated. I put new spark plugs, spark plug wires, ignition points, condenser, and distributor cap in her. I optimistically cleaned the carburetor at my Dad’s advice. Air filter, fuel filter, heater hoses, radiator hoses, oil filter, coolant, all replaced in my crash course on car maintenance.

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Inevitably, it’s what you don’t replace that fails next, and I was soon the proud owner of a new Sears Die-Hard battery, after my steed refused to giddy-up one chill Seattle morning. But after our initial courtship squabbles, we settled into a lovely long-term relationship, my humongous family car and I. I washed and waxed her, and checked the air and treated the tire sidewalls regularly. I learned to change headlights, tail lights, and turn signal bulbs. I kept a growing toolbox with spares in the trunk.

I drove daily to school at Highline College near Federal Way, and to my afterschool job making sandwiches at a little deli in Des Moines, WA. I drove the three and half hours one-way back to Portland, OR, several times a month to see family and friends. Memories of gas lines and the 70’s oil crisis fresh in my mind, I’d proudly nurse almost 21 mpg out of her in all-highway driving.

I dated an introverted, shy, beautiful dark-haired girl from Des Moines, WA. I met her in my Norwegian class. Her car was sensible, small, and Japanese, so we’d usually take my car. She’d sit in the center of the bench seat as I drove, smiling shyly. Our portable rolling living room heard personal stories, philosophical discussions, and a lot of nonverbal communication. It was large, comfortable, and a space where we could be alone together.

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US 26 in Portland during ash fall

When Mount Saint Helens erupted again, this time sending ash into Portland, I was staying with my brother in Beaverton, briefly before moving to Arizona. I made an air cleaner cover out of pantyhose to keep the ash out of my engine. I mused over how to best clean the ash off the paint without creating a thousand scratches. I missed the top of my mountain, that I was supposed to climb and ski the year it blew up.

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Boom. Oregonian Photos ^^

It’s hard to appreciate what it was like to drive cars like this, especially as a young driver. Your have to develop a high level of comfort with imprecision. The General Motors ‘B’ platform the car was based on dates back to 1926. Thankfully, nobody makes cars like this anymore, and for good reason. The front suspension was so primitive, with under-damped shocks and coil springs, as was the leaf-spring rear. Over repeated bumps, the suspension would ‘pack-up’ and become ineffective at absorbing more bumps. It’s anemic V8 (by today’s standards) was still a large, powerful and torquey motor. Body roll was epic, cornering prowess was clearly an afterthought, with bias ply tires and soft springs.

Even with studded snows, it was a barely-guided missile in the snow, yet I took it repeatedly to the mountain. I carried ‘starter fluid’, a mixture of surely carcinogenic highly volatile solvents to spray into the carb on a cold day to help it wake up. I carried bags of sand in the trunk for weight and traction aid. The number of near misses and improbable successes grew over time.

1960’s American cars were born of incredible ‘slop’, not the high-tolerance computer-guided design and manufacturing of today. Worn wheel bearings manifested as oscillation in the front end. Overly hot brakes on road trips manifested as weak-to-no brakes. Yet, there’s a method to such overt sloppiness. Your car drives less like a tense German autobahn burner, jiggering over every expansion joint of the freeway, and more like a land yacht, sailing down the calm seas of I-5 Southbound. I’d bring a few 12-packs of Coors (not sold in Oregon at the time, so my friends thought that was a big deal), point the nose South, and surf my way down I-5 to Oregon, jauntily singing along to pop tunes on the AM radio.

All good things come to an end, and my girl’s ending was both sad and spectacular. Visiting Oregon in the Spring, I was driving up Highway 26 at night to St. Vincent’s Hospital, to see a high school friend who was laid up from a motorcycle accident. I blame the concert I went to the night before, or just my fatigue, or the torrential rains. Hell, I guess at some level, I blame the designers. New construction had started to reroute the Barnes road underpass, changing its gentle curve to a rapidly decreasing radius one as you exited the freeway. I came in too hot in the rain, and slid through the corner, fighting to avoid swapping ends.

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As I looped back underneath the freeway, I pulled it almost back straight, giving it throttle and hanging on for dear life. The road had other ideas, as new construction had left a six-inch ledge to my left, and my rear wheels dropped over it. The effect of crossing the uneven pavement was immediate and spectacular, as the nose changed direction and slammed into the concrete abutment under the freeway. The rear whipped around and followed suit, as Detroit iron met Oregon concrete with a resounding crash and prolonged scraping. The hood, fenders, and door buckled, headlights smashed out on the left side, and the entire left side of the car crunched. I hit my arm on the window pillar and thought it was probably broken (it wasn’t, just badly bruised).

Amazingly, the engine was still running, and I was able to limp the car a few more blocks to the hospital parking lot, where I parked it in a far corner away from sight, nose-in. Steam hissed out of the radiator, as the engine made really unhealthy sounds in its death-throes. My steed had breathed its last, barely a year into our relationship, all that effort and money gone into a smoking wreck.

I thanked her for protecting me. Two years prior, I had nearly died in a car accident, hitting two telephone poles, spidering a windshield with my face and being trapped in a burning car. So, with no small gratitude, I cleaned out the glove box and put my things into the trunk, then walked to the hospital to see my friend and get my arm checked out.

The next day it was sunny and dry. I’d called my Dad in the morning, as I needed his help and to borrow his ‘extra’ pickup truck for awhile. He’d arranged for salvage and a tow truck to meet me to sign over the title. The side I’d crunched showed massive amounts of body-filler (a.k.a. ‘Bondo), for a car that had ‘never been crashed’. The paint under it was the original bright Chevy Blue, not the dull Chevy green I always had been told was ‘original factory paint’. My Dad’s co-worker had lied through his teeth, curiously selling his honesty to make a $500 sale, a bad trade in my mind.

I ran my hand down the long creased line of the front fender on the passenger side, fondly remembering the seas we’d sailed. Our voyage was a short one, in the relative scheme of time, and like a lot of virgins, my first wasn’t at all what I expected, our relationship born of deceit and dishonesty. My naivety and inexperience had allowed me to be taken advantage of. I’d learned that despite hard work and good planning, you can lose what’s dear to you in an instant of bad judgement.

I wasn’t a virgin anymore, and I already had my eye on this really hot German girl with super high gas mileage. Still, you never forget your first, and today when I see one, I feel again the warmth of our tumultuous relationship and remember a year when everything felt new, strange, and kind of wonderful.

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Herman Creek

Herman Creek

Tears and ash fall into my lunch today
An Empress with her realm in flames, my creatures dying by the tens of thousands again
If not for my ribs and skin, my heart would surely fall of its own weight at my feet
I beseech, no, I beg of the Goddesses, please let this one be
Please let this jewel shine, please see it’s incomparable beauty persist
Please let the waters fall, please let the skies open and deliver salvation to our land
Please let tall cedars greet future visitors, strong and broad, unburnt
Please, if these things cannot be, please, please, please, let my creatures flee!
Please, PLEASE, do not make them pay for the actions of people who cannot see

 

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During the Eagle Creek fire, thousands of acres burned, from Eagle Creek all the way West to Corbett.  During the first several days of the fire, it was pretty clear that Herman Creek had escaped the initial conflagration.  Then, it all changed as the wind shifted and the fires roared East, threatening Hood River and burning all the way to Mount Defiance and Starvation Ridge.  Herman Creek trail took a big hit, burning several miles into the interior, and up Groton Creek and Nick Eaton.  

I wrote this poem sitting in Portland, eating a burrito outside at lunch.  Ashes were falling in the hazy sunshine, choked with smoke from the Gorge. I think the determination that carried me through all of 2018, working in the burn damage on Herman Creek Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, it was born that day.  Ten months later, the work largely completed, the trail was open and I did laps of all the PCT to HCT and in reverse, two 26 mile trips with 5700′ e.g. in two weeks.  For me, this poem truly encapsulates the hopelessness I felt back in September 2017, sitting miles away as the Gorge burned. 

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HCT and Nick Eaton to the right here, severely burned area.

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Nick Eaton Falls before the fire

The One Who Watches

When you burn my heart to ashes
I will renew it with unconditional love
When you exhaust my eyes with crying
I will look upon others with great kindness
When you smother my voice and I cannot speak
I will let my deeds speak in compassionate volumes
When you cover me in deep darkness
I will be the light that shines brightly
When you ravage my heart and mind with loss,
I will remember, I am not my heart or mind
When you try to deprive me of happiness
I will be the one who watches

#whenyourmomdies #poetry #grief #loss #michaelsinger

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THE LEGEND OF TSAGAGLALAL

THERE are several versions of the legend, but the one that was told to us by the Wishram people is as follows:

A woman had a house where the village of Nixluidix was later built. She was chief of all who lived in the region. That was a long time before Coyote came up the river and changed things and people were not yet real people.  After a time Coyote in his travels came to this place and asked the inhabitants if they were living well or ill. They sent him to their chief who lived up on the rocks, where she could look down on the village and know what was going on.

Coyote climbed up to the house on the rocks and asked “What kind of living do you give these people? Do you treat them well or are you one of those evil women?” “I am teaching them to live well and build good houses,” she said.

“Soon the world will change,” said Coyote, “and women will no longer be chiefs.” Then he changed her into a rock with the command, “You shall stay here and watch over the people who live here.”

All the people know that Tsagaglalal sees all things, for whenever they are looking at her those large eyes are watching them.

-“Stone Age on the Columbia River” by Emory Strong, 1959

Useful links:

https://www.oregonhikers.org/field_guide/She_Who_Watches_Hike

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This Tattered Landscape

Grief swells, crashing against the sand of my psyche
Waves pummelling the landscape of my heart
Topography altered in the hot, searing pain of loss
Mind, in retreat, too wary of the ongoing maelstrom
Warm memories of her shine light into the dark
I look across this tattered landscape of sadness
Eyes so tired of crying they can find no tears
I stumble in this unfamiliar, charred terrain
Following the path of the unknown, into the wilderness
Planting flowers of love in the ashen soil
Willing Spring’s celebration of life to heal my soul

#whenyourmomdies #grief #loss

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April’s Clouds

April’s Clouds

April brings fresh storms after the fool’s day
April rain pours into my heart, yet it does not dull the pain
April whispers ‘I’m here again, just as you knew I’d be’
April presents the pain of loss anew, so savagely
April demands the memories that must be seen
April’s unkindness lays manifest upon my psyche
April’s last words, ‘I love you, Susan’ falling in my ear
April rains stream from my eyes, inflaming my heart
April clouds are covering me, so I cannot see
April sun, oh, where are you?
April please just let me be, please let me preserve my sanity

Mothers Day 2017

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I love you, Mom.

#grief #loss T_T