Following Chewonki blog tradition, a teacher ‘takes the reins’ and writes the first blog of the semester. Below are Jason’s, our Environmental Issues teacher, impressions of horse logging (one of our Saturday morning activities). Enjoy and keep an eye out later this week for our first student entry! -AJ
A bright blue sky, brown tree trunks, a brilliant white field of deep snow, the gray rocky shore and dark blue Montsweag Bay beyond. This is Eaton Farm in February.
Liz, a New York City girl, seizes the reins of Russ, Bill Hinkley’s workhorse. Her head comes almost to his shoulder. With a nervous grin she gives voice, “Let’s go, Russ!” and the powerful horse pulls a long section of pine trunk forward. It plows through the soft snow across a field at Chewonki’s Eaton Farm property. Liz’s eyes are wide and her grin is contagious as she jogs behind in the track with quick steps. Bill follows just behind, watchful.
Former Chewonki farmer Brad Johnson brought his team (Bob and Pete) for the weekend horse logging demonstration as well. Chewonki staff felled these trees selectively a few weeks ago, to harvest the wood and create space for others to grow. The straight, thick ones we will mill into lumber for buildings. The others we will split and dry to heat our buildings.
Every student participates in the work, and we get these huge logs out with minimal damage to the frozen earth. After a field trip this week studying forest ecology, students understand in yet another way the source of their heat on cold winter nights.
John Plowden, a local plowman and horse logger, successfully backs his one-ton horse Dan up to a log in the deep snow. Dan, a tall auburn American Belgian six feet at the shoulder, trusts John to guide his great hooves. Katie from Georgia does not mind walking in snow up to her knees. Actually, she loves it. She hooks up the chained log to Dan’s harness. John’s apprentice Andy drives him out, and they avoid even the saplings, leaving the rest of the forest intact. Working with a horse all day requires a mastery that is imperfect. The horse logger must work in two ways: honoring the horse’s natural tendencies and his unique personality. Dan is hard working. Sal can be finicky. They all love to pull, but Bob can’t resist it. Once hooked to a log he stamps his feet, anticipating the command, itching to take off.
Fred Cahrl stands in our Eaton Farm parking lot, running the Wood-Mizer, a lanky orange metal rig that he hauls behind his truck. Before we started work this afternoon, Fred outlined for us a history of lumber milling technologies. From hand cutting timbers with adze and axe, to cutting ship planks with a two-man saw, to the many-bladed hydro-powered mills whose buildings still stand alongside rivers all over Maine. Fred is from the nearby town of Woolwich. Today, his portable sawmill is an alternative to the industrial system, allowing milling of timbers right where they will be used.
Fred flips some of the many joysticks on his end, and the hydraulic claws roll and grasp and maneuver a mighty trunk of oak into place. Jenn, a student and a natural lumberjack, wields a peevee, a spiked tool that has not changed its form in the last 150 years. She uses it to lever and roll logs toward the machine. Fred walks the length of the log now with the giant sliding bandsaw, which passes through the entire trunk lengthways. A rough slab falls off. Two students, Peter and Baylor, slide it off and load it into the waiting truck bed. These we will saw up for firewood. Fred will shave each log square and saw it into lumber for our use in building and repairs on Chewonki Neck.
From forest to high-quality lumber, all within 200 yards. Our students may never look at wood the same way again.
Environmental Issues Instructor