Rural Life in the UP of Michigan Some stories about life on 160 rural acres in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

November 19, 2018

Cherry Lumber

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 10:18 pm

My neighbor Jim had some cherry trees on his property. His friend Bill thought he might like to make some cabinets out of cherry. So Jim and Bill embarked on a small scale logging operation. They cut down and bucked up several trees, and hauled them out to the bush road by hand, because they didn’t have a tractor between them.

Once on the bush road, the heavy logs were moved onto a trailer and pickup and hauled to Bill’s place. Bill then went to work finding a sawyer to make lumber out of the hard-won cherry.

Things got more complicated, because local sawmills are used to dealing in 40 cord truckloads. Jim and Bill’s few logs were random length… small diameter ones longer and big ones shorter, to make them possible to be lifted by hand. For-profit sawmills want standardized log lengths. Jim and Bill could not find a sawyer interested in their small project.

Jim is Ernie’s son. Ernie, who passed away some years ago, helped me on numerous occasions when I was much younger, poorer, and less capable with tools. Ernie never refused a request from me, often worked with me for a long while, and when asked what was the charge, would say, “Oh, give me a dollar.” I swore I’d get even someday.

Jim (Ernie’s son) called me up and asked if I’d be interested in sawing some cherry lumber for his friend Bill. I was very busy, and my sawmill was not reliable after I replaced some parts last summer. But when Jim asked, I happily said yes. He said his friend Bill would be dropping off the logs.

The cherry up here often grows crooked, which is fine for firewood, but a sawmill demands straight logs. The crooks become firewood as the log is being squared up in order to make lumber. These guys had some pretty crooked logs. Some were quite small. And the big ones were a little short. Short logs mean extra work, because fewer sawmill “dogs” are available to hold the logs in place as the saw head passes up and down. I had an challenging pile of cherry logs to work with.

But the crooked logs also provide some interesting lumber, which became evident as the logs were taken apart. I spent some extra time and “bookmatched” the lumber as much as I could as I stacked it. Bookmatching means I stacked it with contiguous board edges touching, like the pages in a book. So the grains in one board more or less mirror the next one down the log. As I got into the project, I found interesting cherry boards whose mirror images suggested improbable designs.

When I called Bill to tell him his lumber was ready, he came right over, and was thrilled by what he saw. “How much do I owe you,” he asked as he reached for his wallet. “You’ll have to take it up with Jim,” I said. “I’m doing this as partial payback for all the kind things Jim’s Dad did for me over the years.” Bill put his wallet back.

Later on in the season, Jim ordered a 40 ton load of gravel to repair a different section of his farm trail. Before he could spread it out, Bill intervened, and said he and his grandson would spread the gravel, and they did a quick and thorough job with shovels and rakes. When Jim asked him how much he owed him, he said, “You’ll have to take it up with Ted.”

A recent survey asked people how many friends and family did they have in their lives that they could call for help if they needed it. For the same survey question some years back, the most common answer (not the average) was 5. The most recent survey’s most common answer was 0.

My question is, what cements a friendship to the point that a call for help in the middle of the night would be reliably answered by a friend? Had Bill have bought his cherry lumber, all kiln dried, straight, and unchecked, at the Home Depot ™, there would be no story. He’d bring it home, build his cabinets, and that would be that. But the cabinets Bill builds with the Soldan milled cherry lumber will carry a story along with them. I can see grandchildren telling (exaggerated) stories about the trials and tribulations involved in bringing grandpa’s heirloom cabinets to life.

All three of us felt some satisfaction in this project. And I can tell you that if either of these two need anything it is in my power to help them with, I will. I would argue that this “transaction” is reminiscent of the barter system we were all a part of not so many generations ago. I would further argue that while we are perhaps richer in material things than the folks several generations back, we are much poorer in social terms. I think humans are happiest when they are part of a group, as complicated as such a thing always is. Working our way through the ins and outs of our group’s dynamics cements our place in the world. And it gives us the satisfaction of knowing we’ll have help when the need arises.

November 15, 2018

First Wind

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 6:49 pm

One serious advantage of dog ownership is the walking. I do a lot of walking during the course of my day, but it is mostly on the way to get something done. With the dog, the walk is the task. He is busy using his nose, which leaves me some time for contemplation. I think we all need contemplation.

One of our favorite walks is along the pond dam closest to the road. And my favorite stopping place along the route is the one in the picture. I’m standing on the part of the dam that represents the tallest pile of dirt we made during construction. The old creek bed is around 20′ below my feet.

The most memorable recent walk around that route was a couple of weeks ago. I turned to admire the view, as I often do. It had snowed the night before; one of those gentle first snows of the year that paint such lovely pictures on the conifers. As I stood and stared out at the results of my efforts over the years, I noticed in the distance that the fluffy snow was starting to fall off the trees. I was witnessing the disturbances of the first wind of the morning, and it was coming right for me.

I became enthralled with this event. Tree after tree was shedding its snow, as the wind moved west towards my vantage point. Then I began to see the evidence of the wind’s approach in the tiny ripples progressing along the surface of the pond. Just before the wind hit me, I raised my arms and opened my fingers, so I felt the full force of the day’s first wind.

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