Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pole cutting

Over the weekend my family and I set out to get a load of poles from the forest to build a corral. We bought our pole cutting permit from the Forest Service for an allotted amount of trees we could cut down. The best trees are the Lodgepole Pine, Pinus contorta; the stipulation to cutting down the trees: they had to be dead. With the pine beetle destroying Lodgepole Pine forests in the Rocky Mountain region, finding dead trees is not a problem. In fact, there are so many dead trees the forest service has been paying for the removal of the trees in certain areas. Dead trees are a tremendous wildfire threat, and once they dry out completely, their roots can no longer hold them up and they eventually fall down.

Besides following the Forest Service guidelines, we had our own: finding trees that were not too big in circumference. We did not want to be out aimlessly cutting down trees to meet our required length. The goal: finding trees narrow enough for corral poles and long enough to get about two poles out of one tree. This requires a little searching and knowing were the “pole stands” are. Thankfully we have friends, a couple who lives close to us, who know where a good stand could be found.

We went up to New Fork Lake to find our friends down a Forest Service road already at work. They needed 12’ poles for a buck and rail fence they were going to build. We needed 14’ poles. The day was very warm for the area, but the nature of the work meant being fully clothed, including long sleeved shirts and leather gloves. The guys would cut down the trees, clean them up, measure the right size and cut the pole appropriately. My friend and I then drug the trees down and out of the forest to separate the poles into appropriate piles based on size. A blazing hot sun, heavy poles to drag over a thick forest floor, and soon we were all sweating, some of us in streams.
The kids played in the shade, pretending and acting out all sorts of stories. My son enjoyed immetating the sound of the saw.

I thought of the people who came to the area long ago as loggers and made their living by clearing the forests by hand. Then the tie hacks came to mind; the men who would go into the woods and cut down trees to shape, by hand, into railroad ties. These men would swing their heavy axes over and over to make one tie, getting paid per tie and probably not very much for the amount of physical labor they were exerting.

One day of being a woman in the woods and I was exhausted. But we have a permit for one more trip, a corral yet to build, and soon we will begin getting ready for the winter by making a few firewood runs. Although we were working hard we will end up saving a lot of money, and perhaps we were doing our part by taking what dead trees we could so they could be put to some use.

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