Trees

As a British Columbian living in the middle of the Canadian prairies I find that there are two aspects of my former province that I miss the most; the first is the Rocky Mountains and the second is the trees. Although I was surrounded by trees my entire life, I didn’t often take particular notice of them.

Like most British Columbians, I made my living from the forests, either directly or indirectly, and their essence is always near at hand. Even throughout Vancouver’s urban sprawl the scent of trees wafts about. Live trees are numerous throughout the residential neighbourhoods and the sweet smell of forest products radiates from the chip-trucks and rail-cars moving to or from the wharves. The odour and proximity of trees in British Columbia are so plentiful and ever-present that one can’t help but take them for granted.

Now that I am living in Saskatoon, I notice the absence of trees. Not that there is a dearth of trees here. To the contrary, there are trees of great variety; but not fir, spruce, pine and cedar”?those trees to which my mind relates and for which my senses long. I am not alone in this strange craving; fellow law students and former British Columbians Aurora Johannson and Clayton Miller have informed me that they also miss the trees. Aurora says that on driving back to BC, the first thing she does upon entering the vast forests of the Rocky Mountains is to roll down the car window and breathe deeply of the conifers.

One might think that in the midst of winter there would be nothing to smell of forests. Right now the wind and snow are blowing outside my home (a typical Canadian prairie winter day) and if I were in BC’s interior the same would be true there. However, for me the desire to smell wood is particularly strong in the winter months and this is likely attributable to the fact that I spent countless hours felling and bucking trees in the dead of winter.

The pictures that accompany this article were taken on a winter day in 1987 when I was working on a logging show located on the northwest side of Williston Lake, BC. There is nothing like the smell of freshly cut wood when the air is so cold that it hurts to breathe.

I can recall that winter like it was yesterday because it was particularly cold and brutal. I was staying in a logging camp several miles from where the landings were located. The weather was so cold that year that my gasoline-powered pick-up truck wouldn’t start in the mornings even when the block-heater was plugged in. I had to leave it running twenty-four hours a day so that it would be warm and ready for me when I started my workday at 4 am. An entire winter of that resulted in my having to replace its engine in the spring.

Between bouts of bucking the landings off, I would re-enter the truck and stick my head under the dash-board so that the heat would blow on my plastic hardhat. It would cause the ice that had frozen my hair to the hard-hat liner to melt so that I could remove it from my head.

About two weeks before Christmas that year the temperature dipped down to minus 50°C. That morning I went to buck the first logging trucks of the day so they could begin their cyclical travels between the landings and the scale. When the first truck was ready to leave and the driver eased it into motion, its universal-joint shattered like glass. The metal had become brittle from the cold and it disintegrated into small shards when torque was applied.

That was the last of a long list of cold-related mechanical breakdowns that caused the closure of the logging operations until the New Year when the weather had warmed up”?slightly.

I find it odd that with all of the experiences and brutally hard work that I incurred working in British Columbia’s forests, that my most poignant memories are of the sweet smell of wood and trees. When I stumbled across these pictures today I could instantly recall the odour of spruce needles and wood chips. Only after delving further into memory do the related experiences return.

The first thing that I will do when I return to BC is stop my car and hug a conifer of the Rocky Mountain foothills”?notwithstanding my lifelong allergy to trees…

Wayne E. Benedict has a varied career history and strong links to the Canadian labour movement. He is working part-time toward his Bachelor of Human Resources and Labour Relations at Athabasca University. He is a fulltime first-year student of the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. For a more detailed writer bio, see The Voice writers’ feature page under ‘About The Voice’. If you would like to send article-feedback to Wayne, he can be reached at wayneben@sasktel.net

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