WOSTER: Venture through wilderness for fire fuel? Yes, he ‘wood’We were children of the 1940s and 1950s, you know. We had heard the stories of the Great Depression, the grasshoppers and dust storms and paint-peeling siding on empty farm houses.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
Many years ago when I had younger friends, Nancy and I would join them on weekends like this one to search for firewood in the Missouri River breaks above Oahe Dam.
We were three couples, each with a fireplace and a chainsaw. The fall firewood hunt had its practical side because of the fireplaces. You need wood to keep one going, and every member of our three-couple group was way too cheap to consider buying wood.
Wait. Cheap may be too harsh a word. Perhaps we were simply frugal.
We were children of the 1940s and 1950s, you know. We had heard the stories of the Great Depression, the grasshoppers and dust storms and paint-peeling siding on empty farm houses whose owners or renters had given up and moved to more hospitable parts.
None of us in that trio of wood-hunting couples grew up in wealthy homes. All of us grew up, to varying degrees, in families whose members knew better than to waste anything, and knew better than to throw away anything, even a bent and rusted nail.
“For want of a nail,” after all.
Oh, and by the way? My dad used to recite that ancient bit of verse in his rich tenor voice. He recited it so often I came to detest the words. Even so, the message sank in: Throw away even an old nail, and your kingdom may come unraveled.
A nail, a worn pair of boots, a work shirt with a torn sleeve, a claw hammer with black tape holding together the cracked wooden handle. All of those things were the symbolic nail that must be kept in a secure Mason jar or soup can or tool box against the eventual day when they would be just the thing we needed to keep our symbolic kingdom together. So, we learned to hoard, scrimp and save.
I mean, money may not grow on trees, right? Now, wood — wood does grow on trees, and the bluffs and draws along the Missouri River produced nice stands of trees, never mind the notion folks who have never lived in South Dakota might have about a treeless, barren and dry landscape that stretches from Minnesota to the Black Hills.
Sure, we aren’t the mountain west, but we have some trees.
Our wood-cutting sextet made numerous forays into the wilderness during our active fireplace years. I was always a little fuzzy about the exact dividing line between dead or downed trees we could cut without concern and seemingly dead, sometimes downed trees that were off-limits to a group of city-slicker lumberjacks.
The two other guys in the group were bolder, approaching the thickets and shelterbelts with the confident attitude that if the trees they saw ahead were not to be harvested, somebody (Big Government, maybe?) would have posted a series of warning signs.
They charged ahead. I followed at a somewhat more sedate pace, which gave me time to see if the forest police were about to swoop up from a woody draw and make several arrests.
The more sedate pace also meant that the other guys already had their saws fired up, oiled up and slicing through tree limbs by the time I reached the scene. More action for them, less work for me, and yet we divvied the product. Is this a great country or what?
I said I was fuzzy about what trees could be cut. I was also fuzzy about how to keep a chainsaw running. Actually, I was more than a little fuzzy about how to get one to start. I don’t know that I ever really managed to make a saw run and cut the way the other guys did, steadily and with that unmistakable sharp rasp.
My logging style, in fact, resembled that famous movie scene in which the Paul Newman character can’t get a chainsaw started to save his brother, who drowns because he is pinned under a tree in rising water. I never much liked cutting wood near the water.
These days, I have a small electric chainsaw. It isn’t a lumberjack rig, but it takes a power outage to make the thing quit working.