Life as a lumberjack rookie

Life as a lumberjack rookie McGill University

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McGill Reporter
February 9, 2006 - Volume 38 Number 11
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Life as a Lumberjack rookie

Okay, I'll admit it; I'm a greenhorn. A tenderfoot. I'm city boy, through and through. I couldn't start a fire with three litres of gas and a flame-thrower, and I'm so inept with tools that my girlfriend won't even let me hang pictures at home. Imagine my joy when my editor assigned me to hang out with the Mac woodsmen at 6 a.m.

How city am I? I'm so spoiled by public transit that at age 42, I still don't have my driver's license. I mention this because I feel fairly safe in my assumption that, in the long and rugged history of lumberjacking, I am the only person to show up at camp in a limo. (Hey, it was cheaper than a cab. Really.) Something tells me that most of these kids have been driving since before puberty. Tractors, pick-ups, combines, 18-wheelers, whatever.

At Morgan Arboretum, I watch pairs of Clansmen go through their paces in the crosscut saw event under the watchful eye of their coach, John Watson. As a duo slices through the thick log with apparent ease, Watson growls to me out of the corner of his mouth that one lumberjack is bringing the saw handle too close to his body. As if by magic, the pair that just seconds before had been sailing along so smoothly runs aground on a shoal of red pine. "Too close and the saw starts to bind," Watson says, stone-faced. The team recovers and finishes their cut.

Watson turns in my direction and sizes me up. I'm wearing a purple parka that makes me look like Barney the Dinosaur. Of all the disciplines his team will be practicing today, this is probably the safest for a greenhorn like me. No doubt the Clansmen are under strict orders to keep me well clear of chainsaws and throwing axes.

Watson asks me - no, he tells me - to give it a whirl. I nod and silently hope to hell he doesn't smell my three-year-old daughter's Oral B Pink Princess Bubblegum toothpaste on my breath. Nothing worse than running out of Colgate just 30 minutes before your first day as a lumberjack.

Grabbing the saw handle I take my position beside the log. I try to emulate the stance of the others - low and with my legs out wide, a solid base from which to work. With Watson's words ringing in my ears, I hold the saw far from my body, too far no doubt.

Looking down the blade, I am relieved to see that Watson has paired me with one of the team's best woodsmen, Johnathan Blais. Blais takes the lead and sawdust begins to fall. Our blade, though significantly slower than the others, cuts true and without incident. The disk topples to the ground and I fight the urge to pocket it like an NHL rookie after potting his first goal. Blais nods his head and grins. I look over to Watson for his assessment. "Not bad for a McGill guy," he says. I feel my face blush with pride, Pink Princess, no doubt.

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