methow grist 2011-2014 archive

The Cabin - Part 1
Why there are not two of me

The instructions on how to fall a tree usually begin with “Check the lean, clear the brush and leave an escape route.” As a neophyte faller I did all three. The instructions did not mention phototropism, the nature of plants to aim at the sun. And thanks to this phenomenon, I managed to shut down the brand new North Cascades highway, at the same time obliterating telephone service from East Boesel to the Weeman Bridge.

It was 1972. The highway had not officially opened. It was still a meandering two lane un-shouldered 45 mph road with a one-lane Weeman Bridge. I’d bought my property two years before and was inspired by a book called ONE MAN’S WILDERNESS, The story of Alaskan Dick Proenneke who spent thirty years in the Alaska wilds and from scratch built a log cabin without any power tools. There was no house here then, and my indolent nature convinced me after one tree that I would employ a chain saw.

I set about clearing some mighty ponderosa pines from my property. There was a copse of them, all at east 60 feet tall and the one I selected was distinctly leaning toward where the house now stands. A perfect landing area.

I made the intitial cuts as prescribed and took note that the tree ought to have been tipping toward its target. A few more incisions, and woe was me, it began to lean in the opposite direction, toward the highway. I put a wedge in to urge its direction and made a few more cuts. There was something like a moan from the beast and it began to fall.
In those days there was a power line on the south side of the road, and on this north side, another line. Both had been flattened by the tree that lay in stately manner directly across highway 20. Oh god, I thought. I took my Stihl saw across the road and began to cut from the narrow end. Next door neighbor Bill McGowen jogged over and asked if my telephone was working. His wife Erline had been cut off in mid conversation.

Bill immediately recognized the problem, ran home and got his saw and in less than half an hour we had the tree in pieces and off the road. I cut another hunk that was over the ditch and next one was across the line on the north side. I straddled it and began a cut. Then, wisdom arrived telling me it could be a hot electric line, don’t straddle it. I moved a bit farther away toward Grizzly Mountain and began sawing. The cut was not complete when there was a TWANG, a WHOOSH and the line sprang high into the air propelling a piece of log the size of a small garbage can and landing about 30 feet away.

Turns out it was the telephone line and had I kept straddling it there would have been two of me, cut vertically down the middle. The line was elastic and very strong and on later inspection had loosened three or four poles from the earth before pulling out the end pole near the bridge.

Once I had recovered from the shock and oral discharge brought on by sheer after-the-fact fright, I drove down the road to check on the two other nearby neighbors. The farther one said she still had a phone and I asked her to call the phone company and report what I had wrought. She said she would. This was about nine in the morning.

By 4 o’ clock, nobody had shown up from the phone company, then owned by Telephone Utilities Corp. Everyone up here had party lines. I had no home, no phone, and obviously, no sense. I drove to town to have dinner that evening and in front of the Palace restaurant was parked a car with the phone company logo. There were but two customers and I approached them, asking if they were from the phone company. Yes they were and yes, they had heard about some trouble out this way. They’d check it out tomorrow morning.

And they did so, and only then did I learn about elastic cable. I gave them all the information I could for the company, and asked if they had any estimate of what this foible would cost me. They had no idea, but said the company would get hold of me.

Weeks later, when I was at home in Everett I still had not heard from the company, so I called them. Got the correct person and fessed up, and asked how much I could expect to pay. The answer stunned me: He said something like, “Oh, don’t worry about it. All the poles can be re-set and the line did not break, just needed a splice at the terminus. Thanks for calling us.” And that was it.

In Part Two we’ll make mention of the construction of the cabin, which, by the way, still stands.


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