Saturday, September 1, 2007

Wood Work

For almost as long as I can remember, my dad has worked in the wood industry. He started logging when I was about 3 years old. To this day, I still remember the sight of him sitting at the kitchen table on winter evenings, sharpening his chainsaw. There is a distinct smell to saw sharpening: bar oil, mixed gas, the sawdust caked in all the cracks, and that flinty-metallic smell of the filing process. I used to hover and beg for a chance to run the round file across the tooth of the chain. Dad worked away from home long hours, and climbing on his back while he sharpened his saw was one way to share some of his attention.

For a time, Dad's equipment consisted of a chainsaw and an old 2-wheel drive pickup. He left before dawn and rarely returned home before dark. Once in a while we would see more of him in winter, when the days were shorter. But as often as not, Dad would bid on a job out of the county and he would live in the bus in the woods somewhere else. Mom ran the farm, and raised us girls without an extra pair of hands for the most part during those months. It was a huge treat to visit Dad in the woods and spend the weekend camping. In truth, the conditions were similar to our household conditions, but that is a different story. The novelty was that Mom and Dad had nothing better to do than play board games with Selena and me. Or we might build a snowman, watch deer out the windows, or look for timber wolf tracks on the long forest trails together. It was a little slice of real family time.

By the time Dad was spending months away from home, he owned a skidder to drag logs out of the woods onto a landing. Different men that owned loader trucks would haul the wood to mills for him. Sometimes Dad would get a big contract with a mill and other loggers would fill part of the contract with him or for him. Eventually, Dad bought a shear, which is a machine that holds, cuts, and drops the tree right where the logger wants it. The chainsaw was used more for limbing after that. Dad built a small shed to use as a shop, and sharpened his saw out there. I know for a fact that Mom never missed having the chainsaw mess at her kitchen table.
Every year the wood industry changed. Laws, regulations, attitudes, permits, bank loan rates, contracts, stumpage prices, insurance costs, worker's comp, obsolete machinery, environmental assessments and awareness, new methods, new politics, new competition, continuing education, niche markets, supply, demand, weather and seasons, all affect people that earn their living by working with forest products. Dad was savvy enough to allow his wood business to evolve through the years. He kept up to date on county, state, and federal news concerning all sectors of forestry and he had the ability anticipate how all those small changes would affect his business. He made sure his business was poised to deal with those changes.

Since I was old enough to think trees are pretty, I've challenged my Dad about his work. I loathed the changes a logging job would make to the forest. I researched facts and figures about the devastation wood mills had on the environment. I chafed at the official stupidity that was often allowed to make decisions about public lands. I didn't agree with anything the wood industry was doing. (The college years were especially bad.)

God has a beautiful sense of irony...a year after I married the one man that was as different from my father as possible, Clancy quit his job as a technical director and bought a sawmill to become his own boss. Dad became his main customer and I was surrounded by the wood industry once again.
Even though my dad and I didn't agree on most issues, he still took the time to explain to me the different things he was doing with his business. He also asked for my help with different projects. I did ghostwriting for Dad to large pipeline companies during the time Dad helped an elderly woman go to court to receive a fair market price for her trees that were in a proposed right-of-way. I read the minutes of board meetings Dad was a part of that helped guide environmental decisions within the county. I started to observe how hard Dad worked to find a market for every scrap of wood he handled-to make production not just more profitable, but less wasteful. And I became interested in the wood business...

I suppose any industry is a microcosm of the world at large. As I mentioned before, hundreds of different things that most people never associate with wood actually affect how that piece of wood becomes part of a house or chair or some one's firewood or fence post. I find that fascinating. Eventually I became more interested in listening and learning than spouting off. With Dad's introduction, I've had the privilege of meeting many folks from different walks of life that care about the trees and the wildlife, the watersheds and sustainable harvest as much, or even more than I do.
I still have a wicked mouth when it comes to criticizing my Dad's business though. One day when he was frustrated with his website I took the liberty to inform him how pathetic it really was and how he should do things differently. Merciless critique is one of my gifts. Word to the wise: Be very careful if you start enjoying the sound of your own voice. Before the conversation was over I found myself agreeing to design a blog/website for Wille Lumber and Timber Inc. And it turns out, I'm loving it.
One of the ventures I'm most excited about, is Dad's involvement in the Minnesota Wood Campaign's "True North Woods" brand. The awesome people that created this association wrote a mission statement that reflects all the high standards and ideals I ever dreamed of for the forest products industry.
The blog I write for Dad is just getting off the ground. To start with, I mainly took a lot of older photos and loaded them in like small advertisements. My next goal is to start writing articles about the forest products industry. I will still highlight products and materials Dad's business offers though.
Just like a spiral, life keeps coming around to the same point time and again, until you learn something new from that experience. What I've learned is that I am not the only one that cares about keeping Northern Minnesota's forests green, diverse, and healthy. If I think back, the person that influenced my love of nature the most was my dad. He taught me how to recognize trees, birds, animals, soil types, and that the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. We still see the world from vastly different perspectives, but we do see eye to eye on some things now. We both want to see Northern Minnesota (it's lands, it's wildlife, it's waters, and it's people) thrive.


Garrett808 said...

Wow Sabrina you sure can write. thanks for sharing that history with us. Makes us know u that much better!

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

I, too, enjoyed this entry. You shared a lot about you, your family, and your dad. I like the balance you and your dad share. To me you've described what a good steward (which the Bible says we are to be) is -- taking good care of God's nature both to honor Him and for those who come after us while using what we need responsibly and without waste.