~ Riceland Meadows ~

A Quiet Passion
by Ralph Rice

The trees towering above us sway in the summer breeze. This hardwood stand is mature and ready for harvest. The landowner and I walk among the trees, selecting and marking them~red oaks, maples, basswood, some tulip poplars, and a few cherry trees.

We select 42 trees to be cut. We review the locations of skidways and landings. We discuss the estimated revenue and method of payment. We walk along unhurried, asking and answering each other's questions. I am a horse logger. I respect my horses, the landowner, and the land. I want to leave this woodlot timbered, but not destroyed. We talk about the young trees and a few well-placed old ones that will provide the seed for the next generations.

I am in this business because I enjoy it, both for the income it provides and for the satisfaction. I like to walk in a woodlot I harvested a few years previous. The impact I made then is barely visible by a few skidways, trail-like roads that make a pleasant place to walk and enjoy nature. The deer use them for highways. Grandpas use them to teach grandchildren history, like about the building of theWilderness Road.

The once small young trees overhang the old skidways as they push for the sky. Their growth is even yet competitive. The young ones grow straight and tall without many branches as they create the new canopy. The old seed trees will become the gems, when the next successive harvest begins.

My logging business is a part-time affair. It mixes well with my farming operation and my off-farm job. I believe that when landowners become more educated about the benefits of a well-managed woodlot, my sound business practices will be in great demand.

It is not just about cutting down trees and selling them for profit. It is not about how much footage I can get out in a day. I enjoy the romance. I like the sounds of the squeaking harness and jingling trace chains. I like having my senses filled with bird song and the smell of freshly cut wood. The feeling of being a good steward makes my spirit soar. I work carefully and steadily. I try to cut and skid 10,000 to 12,000 board feet per week, a meager amount to a large-scale logger, but enough for me.

The landowner and I wander toward his house, a cup of coffee, and a more conversation. We sign a contract reflecting our discussion, property lines, and liability. A fair contract, firm handshake, and mutual respect seal the deal and end our meeting.

My dealings are square. I tell the truth and keep my word. I maintain a running tally of the footage. The respect shown by my log buyers I attribute to my honesty. I am not bragging, here, but stressing the importance of fair dealing, in logging as in life.

I head out my new customer's driveway and toward home~thankful for the work, a new friendship, and the opportunity to share the value of good horses.

Ralph Rice's column "Reflections" appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column appeared in the Summer 2003 issue.

21 July 2003