In February we went to the woods for oak poles to build a new hay shed. Dad tramped all over the woods, measuring trees at breast height, carrying an axe to mark the ones which suited. He hauled out the cross-cut saws, setting and filing their teeth. He mounted awooden box over the drawbar of one of the tractors and loaded it with chains, axes, mauls, wedges, a jug of kerosene, a sack of corn cobs and a small sack of potatoes, and we were off to the timber.
We crashed through a thicket that had grown across the lane where it entered the woods, following a large hogback. We left the lane well into the woods, making our way to a group of marked trees, saplings springing upright behind the tractor.
“Here,” said Dad, handing me a cross-cut saw. He walked slowly around the first tree, looking up into its crown. Presently he chopped out a wedge shaped notch from the side of the tree’s trunk facing where it was to fall. He took the saw and started it at the inside of the notch. “All right,” he said, “you take your end. Don’t struggle with it. You let me do the cutting. Just follow me back and forth to keep the saw from binding.”
Dust trickled into a pile on the roots in front of me. “That’s the time,” he said. “Now you’re a-getting it. Now let’s change sides. When I say, ‘timber,’ you run for the tractor, right now.”
Pulling out of the cut which was about a third of the way through the tree, we started from the other side, about an inch further up the trunk. When we reached the first cut, he took a quick step back away from the tree and hollered: “Timber! Go on, get!” With a groan and a pop, the tree slowly settled toward the notch. Then picking up speed, it furiously crashed to the ground.
I rushed back to smell the cut and stand on the stump.
“Here. Hold this right here at the end,” he said, feeding out his measuring tape along the trunk. He marked a spot with his axe and stood, reeling in his tape whilst I scampered up and down the trunk.
We heard a tractor coming into the woods. Directly, Grandpa appeared with the hired hand on the fender. He dismounted and shuffled up with a mallet and a heavy spade-like chisel.
“What’s that, Grandpa?” I asked.
“Good,” said Dad, looking up.
Grandpa set to work at the opposite end of the log from Dad, driving the spud along the trunk under the bark with his mallet, quickly peeling it away.
Dad and the hand disappeared into the woods for a time, talking as they went. Grandpa fastened a chain around the large end of the log. I lay down on my back, idly shoving at the massive pole with my feet.
“Hey!” said Grandpa. “You don’t want to do that. If you get that thing to rocking, it could come down on ye. That old cu’se is heavy. It’d kill ye.” He gave a chuckle and slowly sat down on the stump. “When your Uncle Jake and I were kids, we were looking after some calves that we were a-running in the big hollow. There was a big old hollow gum tree, a-lying there, near where we were a-fooling around. It had its top cut off and was still a-resting on its stump, like this ‘n’ here. Jake went to lying in the leaves on the downhill side, a-doing just what you were a-doing. Well directly, it rolled off the stump and on over him. It’s a good thing he was in kind of a soft low spot, ’cause all it did was mash him into the mud and leaves.” He paused with twinkling eyes.
“Well, he wasn’t through. Directly he crawled clear up inside it. It rocked a little as he went along, and then, doggoned if it didn’t take off a-rolling and bouncing down the hill. It really went a-kiting! Boom, boom! Bang! It was one dickens of a long way down to the creek. I tore off down the hill to see if he was all right, about the time the log came up right smart again the trunks of a couple of large ironwoods that stood on the bank of the branch.
“When I got to him, he’d crawled out white as a sheet, just a-reeling, steadying himself again one of the ironwoods. I said: ‘Are ye dizzy?’ And he said: ‘This ain’t dizzy!'”
Later in the morning, I looked up with a start to see an old man who looked like a tall version of my granddad standing there, watching me work.
“Look ‘ee there at that rotten old carcass your dog just drug up, Tom,” said Grandpa.
“I had to walk over here to make sure that thing there didn’t cause Harry and his hand too many headaches,” said the old man with a spit and a nod at Grandpa.
“Grandpa just told me about you a-rolling down a hill in a log when you were a kid,” I said.
“I was just ahead o’ my time is all.”
“Well back before the first automobile, I had to come up with some way o’ going for a spin. ‘Course, your uncle Albert ‘as done one better ‘n that.”
“So what did he do?”
“Well,” he said, “he and his older brother were down in the bottom early March, and they came across this crow’s nest, ‘way up in the crown of a yellow poplar. Well Albert’s older brother, a-being full of piss an’ vinegar, decided for to shinny up to it. He worked and scuffled and strained, and after so long a time, he peeped over the edge of the nest and hollered that theah was a mess o’ young ones.
“Well by then, your uncle Albert was on his way up, too. He come up just below his brother and said, ‘Let me see.’ So his brother got hold of a fist full of young crow, all belly and pin feathers and held it out, as far as he could manage. Albert craned his head ‘way back with his mouth open like this, in time for the crow to kerdobble right square into his mouth. Well he let go right now and dropped clean to the ground.
“Now you might ‘ave allowed that I was ahead o’ my time, but Albert flew neigh thirty year before the Wright Brothers ever got off the ground.”