When my dad said we were getting up at 5am, he wasn’t kidding. His morning schedule demanded we jump out of bed and climb into the truck, the back flanked with high wood racks. Two or three chainsaws are stored in the truck bed, along with cans of gasoline, rusty chains, a yard stick, chalk, and a cooler. This equipment is secured under a green canvas tarp that effuses an oily, pine scent from previous visits to the woods.
Dad takes the wheel of his 1968 white Chevy pickup, my friend, Mary sits in the passenger seat. I wedge in the middle, straddling the stick shift, attempting to sip coffee as we motor our way out of town. The dawn is chilly and new, the traffic quite light.
Getting up that early on a Saturday renders us among the very few who had places to go.
Eventually, clearing out the cobwebs of sleep from my brain, the morning feels electric. We were heading to the woods! Somewhere north of Spokane, my father had discovered a secret tract of fallen timber the previous spring. My dad had a sharp eye for suitable firewood, especially if the trees were already down and dry, insuring a superior burn.
After an hour or so, the Chevy turns onto a dirt road, bumping along deep into the forest. The terrain is steep, and he assures us we are close to his remembered destination. The coffee is long gone, and we need to stop soon and wander into the trees for relief.
His truck rumbles to a halt on a lone logging trace. We’re out of the cab at once stretching our legs, breathing in the morning warmth. He has already dropped the tailgate and is tending to the gas and oil in his Stihl chainsaw. We help haul out the rest of the equipment, and donning leather gloves follow him to the downed trees, lying right where he scouted them, above the road.
I go first, chalking the cut-length with the yard stick, measuring out the entire tree. His chainsaw roars to life and my dad follows me, slicing tree rounds to fit the wood stove. Mary is rolling the sections to the flat, and righting each round for further splitting with an axe.
The day has grown quite hot. We toss our flannel shirts into the cab, drink some water from a canteen, and go back to it.
By 11:00am the trees are no more. Where logs had rested for a season, only skiffs of sawdust remain, the firewood secured in the truck-bed. It’s now that Dad lifts the lid of the cooler and we dine on bologna sandwiches and warm Shasta cola. Somehow the white bread tastes surprisingly good, though only lunchmeat and butter. We had worked up powerful appetites.
My father relaxes now that the job is complete, and we rest on the tailgate. The three of us chitchat and laugh, sweating and smelling of pinesap.
That he loves the woods is clear by his smile and satisfaction. And there, on the back of that truck we socialize–two teenaged girls and our genial guide, resting our backs against neatly even, stacked rows of wood.
My father is in the hospital. The ravages of Parkinson’s Disease, chronic blood clots and advanced age has faded his once vibrant presence. We don’t know how much time he has left, as he grows weaker by the hour. And perhaps this isn’t the best way to inform friends and acquaintances of his failing condition. Still, we can choose to remember him, as I have, during his halcyon days when he was everybody’s dad.
Dad would have celebrated his 87th birthday on June 15th, but didn’t survive his illness. He has been sorely missed this last year since his passing.
To forget his generous character would be a second sort of death, so I will keep him alive in my writing, and my grandchildren will learn all about him. In that way my Dad’s spirit will carry on through their lives.
Happy Fathers’ Day.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both books are available at http://www.river-of-january.com and on Kindle.