Sunday, February 15, 2009

Harvesting solar reservoirs

There are many ways of hauling logs out of the woods, and many animals that been used before powered wheels turned up (see images). One-man harnesses, dogs, mules, horses, bullocks preceded tractors, skidders, 4x4s etc. The secret is always to reduce friction at the log (ice is perfect, or water, or air [using aerial cables?]) - or skids, and maximize traction at the power source. Then these logs, which have collected solar energy over years, sometimes centuries, can be used to build houses, variably resisting insect attack, protecting their inhabitants against the elements (not least the sun). The labyrinth of the capitalization of power! Not surprisingly, the largest trees at YB are growing in the least accessible places, protected by the difficulty of hauling out their carcasses.

Halfway to the spring, fallen trees had blocked the path, both rooted on my neighbor's side of the creek. I had to clear them, so I planned on hauling them away. One had been a live cedar, about 12" diameter, lots of red wood, and over 40' high. The other of unknown brand, similar girth, but lighter after years of standing dead, and on its way being firewood. It could however, work as a semi-structural vertical support in a house (see old Japanese buildings). But how to move these trees out of there? I took out the 4x4 and a chain. Whoever invented the chain-hook that couples back onto one of the links, and grips, while being as easy as pie to decouple later, deserves a medal. Alongside the guy who invented the chain. (Or was it a gal, making a daisy-chain for her sweetheart, by splitting stems, and passing the earlier stem through the split?) There is something about a chain, and the mixture of mobility and strength that is quite impressive. Even a man in chains might glimpse this. ... I tied one end around each log, and hauled away. Once the trees get going, they slither along quite nicely, with protruding limb stubs gouging out lines in the damp mud beneath last fall's leaves. But there was a point on the trail that blocked the 4x4's access to the last tree. I needed a second chain to reach through, and paced out a 25' shortfall. Joe was coming round, so I asked him if he had a long chain - about 25' - if he would bring it. After putting the phone down, I thought - typically chains are not that long. Could we perhaps do with 20' by squeezing the 4x4 forward? Had my measuring-by-strides been too generous? Would we cope? If we had a 5' gap, could I use rope to bridge it? Joe turned up with the chain. It's only 20', he announced. The last log was the lower section of the big cedar, itself over 20' long. There may be a 5' gap, I said. I have some yellow poly rope, but it's not thick enough. Joe took the rope, looped it into three strands, tied bowline knots at each end, with triple loops, and we had our extra five feet. And bowline knots unslip after great tension. We needed the rope. At first the log would not move - it was at too much of an angle to the path, and sloping down to the creek. Thirty years ago I was leaving a monastery in Athos for the day, and five ancient monks were already at work, moving huge rocks with wooden poles. I had also seen video reconstructions of Stonehenge rock-moving techniques, using logs as rollers, as it happened. Poles worked wonders with us too, allowing weak humans to move weights we could not otherwise contemplate shifting. We know even birds use sticks to poke insects out of holes. Do they ever use them as levers? We got the log nicely back to under the front deck, and then argued about how long it was, pacing out the length with our bodies. Over 20', yes. But we staked our respective reputations on more exact figures before measuring it. 22'9" said the metal tape. We both lost the bet with technology, but gained about 2' of actual log. I will try to adjust my stride. At 17 it was exactly 3'. Now I think I am stretching my pace a little. It's either metrification (one yard = approx 3'3") - nostalgia for Europe? Or my misguided attempt at compensation for no longer being 17.