When I was interviewing my grandma before she passed away last year, she talked a lot about everyone going to the woods to work in winter. I have pictures from the last four generations and there’s all these pictures of mostly men working in the woods. Looking back I think I worked about every winter of my life in the woods except when I was flying or at school. When I was a little kid, I was mostly in charge of throwing wood onto the sled or wagon – 18” logs for the furnace and 12” for the cookstove, or 4 foot wood for the sugarhouse. I don’t remember when I started, I remember complaining about it. I remember as a little kid running the handle of the splitter. I remember how tall the stacks of wood were.
In the old days working in the woods during the wintertime always made sense because the logs always moved easier over snow covered ground than they would have if you were dragging them or picking them up to put on wheels in the summer. Winter is still the most common time, after the mud freezes and before there’s too much snow. There are no leaves, you can see what you’re cutting down, and it does less damage. You don’t want to rut up the woods, so you still don’t usually want to skid logs in summer, but for some trees – like pine – you do want to scuff up the ground for regeneration.
My father used to tell the story of working out in the woods with my grandfather who never liked to wear gloves when he was working with horses. My father can remember the logging chain freezing onto my grandfather’s hand when he was moving it; he’d have to violently shake his hand to remove the chain. Though my Grandfather loved horses and used them until the 1950’s, my father had no desire to ever use a horse.
I primarily use a tractor combined with a winch and a log forwarder in the woods now, but there are certain situations where logging with horses is still the most efficient woodland management tool. If you want to have low woodlot impact, and you have an easy place to skid where the horse can pull everything flat or downhill, then horses are ideal. I enjoy working in the woods with horses the best, but it’s a lot slower. For me, it is a labor of love when I get a chance to log with them.
My first team of horses, Tom & Jerry, I got when I was still working my Dad’s farm. I remember my father would move a big log or a stone from the fields, something really heavy, and look at me and grin and say “I’d like to see your horses do that.” But my Dad didn’t just think that all new tools were better. I also remember him going to the woods with a chainsaw and my grandfather going to the woods with an axe and my father always said my grandfather could limb a tree faster with an axe than he could with a chainsaw.
This winter I’ve been working in the woods mostly with my neighbor, Nate Smith. I’m still cutting and splitting the 18″, 12″ and 4-foot firewood like I did when I was a kid. My log length firewood piles are in good shape,(though I am a little behind in cutting and splitting). And I’m pulling out logs for lumber, mostly pine, fur and spruce (see clearing trail’s post). I rely on a tractor and haven’t used a team of horses in ten years, but I mean to start up again and last year spent some time playing around with using my current horse, Zoey, an all-white Percheron who is very sweet and wants to work.
This weekend I was in my sugar woods, putting stubby tap adaptors on drop lines for the new taps I’m installing. I will be trying the new check valve spouts this season. This week, Nate and I will be felling some sugar maples that need to come out of the sugarwoods for firewood, and a few sawlogs.
Look for more winter woods work about getting ready for sugaring in the next post.