A logger’s daughter’s Earth Day

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

When I look at my garden, my mind works in annual cycles. I’ll put tomatoes in this spot, I think, because it gets great afternoon sun. I’ll try to grow more carrots, and leave less room for cucumbers. This year, I might even refrain from planting my squash so close together that, by August, they manage to take over two raised beds in a tangle of unruly vines.

When I look at my garden, I can see my summer harvest.

When my dad looks at a piece of forestland, he can see the next several decades.

My dad is a logger — sawyer, lumberjack, keeper of the woods. I grew sensitive as a child to the assumptions people would make about my father when I shared what he did for a living.

“Your dad cuts down trees,” I recall someone saying on more than one occasion, a hint of self-righteousness in their voice.

They were right — and he’s damn good at it. My dad is an artist and the chainsaw is his brush. However, it takes some training to fully appreciate his masterpieces. 

I’m not about to argue that the most pristine woods feature stumps, slash piles and skid trails — or maybe I am. All I’m saying is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if the beholder knows a lick about responsible forest management, they will learn that the logger is an essential member of the ecosystem.

I won’t pretend to be unbiased on the issue of forest management. I have long romanticized my dad’s job, having spent hours of my childhood in the log landings dotted above Hope. It was (still is) a regular chore to serve as chauffeur when my dad moves equipment between local jobs; I always marvel at the narrow roads truck drivers manage to navigate in all seasons as I head to pick him up and drive him down the mountain. 

While others look for heads-up pennies, I consider encountering a loaded log truck a good omen. 

My favorite scent is my husband’s clothes when he finishes a day of logging with my dad: sweat and sawdust, gas and oil, dried sap and damp duff.

In preparing to write this, I convinced myself I may not be as qualified as I originally thought to speak on the benefits of logging as a tool for keeping forests healthy. So, I called my dad.

One of the great things about having a dad who works for himself is that he picks up his phone 90% of the time. I often hear a chainsaw or piece of heavy machinery idle and then rattle to stillness before the familiar and curious, “Hello?” This time, though, it was late afternoon, so he answered without any audible evidence that I interrupted his business day, which usually starts at sunup.

“I’ve called to conduct an impromptu interview,” I said.

“So is this off the record?” he asked, to which I replied, “No.” 

He laughed, and I explained that I wanted to share something in the paper about logging for Earth Day, but I didn’t know if I was qualified, so I decided to call an expert. I could hear him recoil at the notion that he was an “expert” in anything (humble to a fault, this man), but we managed to have the philosophical discussion I needed to get the gears turning.

During this conversation, the idea that my dad can see the future came to mind — the future of the woods, that is. Logging of private land is often used for short-term economic gain; it’s a financial move of which my dad is often part. Any trepidation toward that practice should be mitigated if you can see the forest as a long-term crop. 

When my dad fells a big, money-making cedar, he does so in such a way that the young trees around it — older than me, but young, if we’re talking in logger-years — aren’t damaged in the act. This lengthens the skidding and processing time, but ensures a productive and healthy forest for the next generation. 

This is just one example of how logging can be done responsibly, and doesn’t even touch on the responsibility that we — as humans who have chosen to build our infrastructure on the edges of massive swaths of forests — have to mitigate fire and disease. But that’s a topic for another time.

When my dad talks about his practices, he uses words like “care,” “patience” and “knowledge.” He doesn’t spend a day in the woods without considering what he’s leaving to the next person who will inhabit the land he taught me to love.

I can’t think of anyone who celebrates Earth Day as well as my dad.

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