Growing Up Alaska: Timber

We heated our house with firewood, and since it was a big house, that meant a lot of firewood. On an average, in mild weather (20º above average) we would go through a cord of wood every two weeks. The colder it got, the more wood we would use, at the coldest time (-40º) we could go through more than a cord of wood in a week.

To understand that volume, one cord of wood is measured 4x8x4 feet. That is two standard size pickup beds of stacked wood. All of that needed to be cut, hauled, chopped and stacked.

We would collect some wood over the summer between mining and running errands. Dad would often cut a tree and limb it, leaving it laying out to dry. This wasn’t for normal use, but would be collected in the fall and stored for shortages or extremely cold weather when we needed dry wood to burn hotter.

That meant that most of the winter, one of our activities was to collect wood. Some people who cut firewood would clear cut an area, but dad was always selective. We would go into an area and cut down mature trees and leave others to be harvested years, if not decades down the road.

Hauling wood was a chore as we never cut right along the road either. That meant it had to be carried out in lengths of 4-6 feet, depending on the size. That wasn’t too big of a deal with me and my two older brothers, but being 4-6 years younger, I had to work twice as hard to keep up.

I was around 10 and we were falling birch trees along the Ketchum Creek Road and packing them out through waist deep snow. Once we had a path somewhat beaten down, it wasn’t so hard. Dad was selecting trees about a hundred feet off the road and once he had a couple of them cut and limbed, we started hauling.

It would usually take 3-4 trees to fill up the truck, but dad often cut 6-8 trees and we stacked the wood near the road for others or for one of us boys to come back on a snow machine and haul out.

We were nearly done loading the truck and dad was in the process of cutting these extra trees. I was carrying two medium size logs, about 5 feet in length, one on each shoulder. This meant that I had the logs pressed against the side of my head, pressing my hat into my ears and didn’t hear the call of warning.

The tree had twisted, and instead of falling perpendicular to the road, had fallen parallel and right along the path I was walking. I heard the swoosh of air as the limbs ripped through it and was just turning when the top of the fifty to sixty foot tree crashed down on me.

I had no time to react as the tree struck me about ten feet from the top and slammed me face first into the snow. The world went black and I am not sure if I was knocked out or how long I had been down before I realized I was pinned and started thrashing, trying to get up.

It was all in vain as not only had the tree pinned me, the two logs I was carrying had crossed over my the back of my head and pinned me further. I felt someone grab one of my legs and pull, but I didn’t budge. Then I felt one of the logs shift and one of my brothers pulling at the same time and I scrambled free.

I knelt in the snow and breathed while everyone asked if I was okay. We’d had many near misses, but this was the first time any of us had been hit by a tree. Amazingly, I came away with nothing more than a few bruises and a long scratch on my cheek.

By what I am certain was divine intervention, the tree had fallen squarely on me and as I fell forward, the two logs I had been carrying had driven into the snow and crossed, taking the brunt of the force from the tree and likely saving my life, or in the least, serious brain injury.

We were always safe when we did things because we knew that the closest hospital was over a hundred miles away, but accidents did happen. It would be nearly a month before dad let us collect wood while he was cutting. This made the process a lot longer which meant we got a lot colder, but we were safer.

Author: matthewlasley

I am a school teacher and an author. I like to write picture books, middle grade, science fiction and short stories. I live in Alaska and I love history, so those two things often influence my creative writing.

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