Jesse’s Musings
Reflections of a consious mind

My Dad…

Why does it always seem like death brings such clarity to those who remain behind?

I am sorry Dad, that I didn’t have more time with you; more importantly that I was not physically present to witness the man you became in the last two years of your life. Was it the miles between us, or just typical father/son awkwardness that prevented us from connecting on some off the finer points? I guess I’ll never know!

What I do know and treasure however, are the great memories I have from farm and logging days, so on those I will dwell.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 2.43.49 PMYou were a teacher Dad, one whom sometimes struggled to connect with your own, yet could skillfully ease alongside a floundering youth and offer words of wisdom or practical life skills. Your own curiosity and penchant for creative learning, inspired many young men, not the least of whom was, me.

The Sawmill

Our early travels took us up and down the west coast of Canada. Ditch-Witch operator, horse logger, snow shoe traveler, trapper, and stand in nurses assistant are all roles that Dad filled cheerfully throughout the early years. Finally, we ended up on a farm in central British Columbia. Here is where my memories began. Filling wood boxes, chasing cows and playing in the snow was some of the daily lite menu fare. The activity that brought me the most joy in my early boyhood was going with Dad to the sawmill.

All of our houses and additional structures were log construction, and since we were self sufficient, the materials were all homemade. The sawmill was about 7 miles farm. The logs were harvested and brought to the mill yard where they were laid out and cut to length. From here they were loaded onto the “deck” which adjoined the sawmill carriage. A gas powered motor laboriously turned the conveyor, which removed the sawdust from under the large whirring blade and carried it out to the “pile”. Next to the mill was a shack which was heated with an old wood stove and always smelled of spruce needles, bark and sap – a delicious odor.

My job, with my friends, was to keep the sawdust cleared away from the elevated end of the conveyor.  This was so much fun. We would cavort around in the huge pile of soft, tiny chips and scoop the offending material away with boyish importance. At lunchtime we would all crowd into the shack and soak up the wood heat, which felt unspeakably delightful on cold winter days….our primary season of operation.

Dad was one of the sawyers….unquestionably the alpha position on the crew. I remember watching him roll the large frosty logs onto the carriage from the deck with “kant hooks” (basically a sharpened steel tong with a long wooden handle). He was at one end and the “dogger” was at the other. The “dogs” were sharp steel jaws that secured the log as it was cut. Once dogged, the carriage was adjusted to produce a certain size cut, and run though the blade.  Powering the mill was a large tractor which belched black smoke and growled in protest as the knotty wood was forced through the large blade.

To a young boy, this whole process was fascinating and manly.

At the end of the day, the “kants” or three sided logs were loaded onto a wagon which was pulled by another tractor. Once the days produce had been loaded and strapped, the long cold journey home commenced. These timbers were stacked and allowed to dry for a time and them assembled and insulated to form the walls of the next building.

Niteal – the ultimate logging experience

 

Since his time was mainly consumed with running a logging and grading business, other men stepped into my life and filled some of the gaps in my daily upbringing. As a result, the next significant period of time spent with  Dad were in the aforementioned logging business.The most special ones came from my time working in a area called Niteal (a Native American word I believe).

This remote region was only accessible by rail and plane, and only in the winter. Consequently, the pressure was intense in the winter to meet the volume quota that the mill specified. Problem was, most of the ground was muskeg – basically water and moss with a little dirt mixed in. This meant that lots of ice road had to be built to smooth and fortify the ground to accommodate the heavy trucks pounding over it many times per day. This is where my first contribution came into play. For the first winter I ran the water truck and spread thousands of loads over the road. For a 15 ish year old boy, there wasn’t anything I’d rather have been doing.

Dad was the glue that held all this together. From his camp trailer, where he worked, stressed and slept, he kept this multimillion dollar operation humming. In retrospect, I’m not sure what I revered more; the cacophony of noise and equipment activity around me, or that my Dad was the one making it all happen. He had help obviously, but the ball stopped with him, and I don’t know if even now I can fully appreciate his contribution.

It should be mentioned that from a young age I have had a proclivity towards anything metal. Welding, fabricating and creating things with steel made me unusually happy. In this pursuit, an opportunity opened up for me to work with the mechanics on the logging equipment, both in the shop and in the field. During this time, I spent many difficult yet meaningful hours working side by side with Dad, freezing our asses off and cursing and throwing wrenches, but it was awesome! Working on equipment under a parachute in -35, often with bare fingers, will test even the most stalwart soul.

The list of stories goes on and on from this time period. Later when I was 18 I got my commercial license and drove a semi- truck, hauling huge loads of logs along slippery ice roads and down steep hills where if I lost control I would probably die; not surprisingly, I loved it. Sometimes, Dad would step away from his stressful responsibilities and come ride with me for a trip so we could talk and catch up. I really enjoyed that, and am truly grateful for those times.

The later years

 

Throughout his life, Dad was tormented by some personal demons and wounds that stemmed from an extremely difficult childhood, and I was affected by this turmoil. Work had always been a point of keen connection for us, but that  was stripped away the last 10 or so years of his life because I moved to the southern states, and face to face interaction became scarce. Also, during this period, he embarked on a journey that would test his resolve and character to the limit. Our interactions became more infrequent, and the camaraderie waned, to both of our dismays.

A dreamer and visionary, he was creative, loyal, determined and unwavering in his work ethic. While it frustrated me often, that he seemed incapable of “letting his hair down”, as I reflect on our lives together, I realize that he just expressed himself in different ways than I did, but they were nonetheless very meaningful to him. Grouse hunting trips, family fishing/camping outings, and nightly readings of Patrick McManus books while eating popcorn and drinking old school Arizona “ice tea”, were all ways that he cared.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 2.45.06 PMDad, though I know you would have trouble believing this, your life was a legacy of a father’s heart. You were a man driven…mostly by your own pain and the desire to overcome it, I believe.  But, out of that crucible came love, compassion, talent, creativity, loyalty, leadership and the ability to mentor young people, that was uncanny.

Though we drifted apart somewhat in the later years, I will always remember and cherish the times we did have – your wisdom and reassuring words during our phone calls – even when you yourself were being pushed to the limit by your own circumstances. Thank you for the ways you loved our family. Thank you for being a provider, protector, mentor, father, counselor, and a loyal example of what it means to persevere through pain and set backs!

I love you Dad, I will miss you!

 

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