Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Alpha and The Omega

One day this past October, I decided it was time to make a trip to the woods with the goal of finding the first and the last reforestation projects on which I worked.  At first thought, my plan seemed so simple; grab my camera, some food and water, then head to the woods.  Upon further contemplation, it occurred to me that during my career, I had work on at least 560 separate projects.  Without question, I remembered the last project, but the first one was a little more difficult to recall since nearly thirty two years had passed.  So in the spirit of full disclosure, my “Alpha Project” is shall we say among the first of my career but likely not the actual first!

The Alpha Project

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This is a stand of Douglas-fir trees that were planted during the winter of 1978.  I should have included some point of reference for scale but on average, the trees in the foreground have diameters ranging between 12 and 14 inches.  By convention, a tree’s diameter is measured at a point that is 4.5 feet above the base of the tree.  Visiting a stand of trees this age is a joy because you can walk about and not get wacked in the face by branches!


The Omega Project

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I will never forget the Omega Project; we planted the seedlings on a rather cold and wet day in March of 2007.  The project area was located down the end of a vacated dirt road so we hiked nearly a quarter mile slipping in the mud the entire way.  Oh yea, it was fun, fun, fun!!

The final unit was also a vast departure from the norm in that it was reforested with red alder seedlings.  For the majority of my career, red alder was considered a weed species of little value and no one ever thought about using it in a reforestation project.  Oh how the world of forestry has changed since beginning my career in 1977.


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Again some point of reference for scale would have been useful but I left home without one the day of this trip.  The alder seedlings shown above are three years of age and range in height from 8 to 10 feet.  Given their rapid growth potential, by the end of the summer of 2011 it will be extremely difficult to walk between the trees without getting wacked in the face by a branch.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Another Year Passes


The character closest to the camera is me. My best guess is that we were celebrating my forth birthday

Today is another of life’s little mile stones, my birthday. I suppose the last time I couldn’t wait for a birthday was the year I turned sixteen. In those days, that was the age at which one could get a driver’s license. Since then for the most part, the day has been pretty much like all others in a year.

My most memorable birthday and the most difficult one was when I turned fifty. Shortly after the big day, I awoke one morning to the reality that I was now middle aged. I suppose if I had been totally honest with myself, I was actually eight years past middle age, but what the heck. As far as my career went, I had accomplished most of my goals and a promotion was highly unlikely. Over the next month, I fell into a state of mild depression; as the fog finally cleared, I decided that what I need was something to jump start my life.

Being a forester, I was trained in planning for the long term, so I sat down and developed my plan. No kidding, I actually did this! Then one evening over dinner, I announced to my wife my need for a change. My plan required one or more of the following: piercing my ear, a tattoo, or dye my hair blonde. When I was finished, my wife simply stated that she was happy I wasn’t going to do something silly. For some reason I missed the sarcasm in her remark!

My years as a planner told me that a plan will fail without knowledge of the facts; so I began to research my options. I quickly learned that when any part of the body is pierced with a large needle, it hurts like hell. Not liking pain, ear piercing was out. I further learned tattoos are expensive, involve needles, and pain. That option was also discarded leaving me with dying my hair blonde, no needles or pain required.

The following week while getting my hair cut, I asked my barber how I might look as a blonde. Being a professional, she didn’t burst out laughing, but I could tell that she certainly wanted to. She tactfully explain that because I have very little hair (yea, I’m nearly bald) and I keep what’s left very short, a dye job might last two weeks. At that point, I realized that my plan for personal change was about to crash and burn.

Now I am another year older and hopefully a little wiser! I am also not sporting body piercings, tattoos, or any hair color except natural gray. On the other hand, I have my health and that’s the something for which I can be truly thankful.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

“Captain Jack” – Old or Bold



During my career as a forester, I had the good fortune to worked with countless characters.  One individual set the bar so high that to this day when I hear the word character, I immediately think of a pilot I called “Captain Jack”.   Captain Jack once told me that he fell in love with the helicopter at an early age; he once joked that he began flying the year after  the Wright Brothers landed at Kitty Hawk. 

There is an old saying in the flying community:  “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots but there are no old, bold pilots.”  If you have ever visited the mountains of the west where Jack flew, you would immediately understand why he was methodical in his approach to flying.  On the other hand, Jack could be a bit volatile, especially when stressed.  I always felt that this added to his charm!  If memory serves me, he was still flying helicopters well into his sixties! 

Helicopters are the aircraft of choice for most operations in the forest because of their ability to maneuver while lifting heavy loads.  The one pictured in the image above is a Hiller UH-12E and for years was the standard used by the forest industry.  As you can see, the Hillers are neither beautiful or comfortable during long flights; they were designed to be simple and dependable. 

I have many fond memories of Captain Jack, but two speak volumes about the man.

Early one spring morning we were preparing to begin a reconnaissance flight when I noticed Jack tapping on the engine warning light.  Despite being only a forester, I knew full well the significance of this light; it provided a visual indication that the engine had shut down.  When seated in the Hiller, your head was less than six feet from the business end of a jet engine, so if the engine quite, it got real quiet very fast!  So as Jack continued to tap on the light, I ask him if it might not be a good time to stop and evaluate the problem.  He just looked at me and growled the following:  “I don’t need a damn light to tell me that the engine is out!”  Lesson number one, never try to tell the pilot how to operate his aircraft.

The last time I flew with Jack was nearly as memorable.  The day began at 5 AM in the gravel parking area behind our office that we used as a landing zone.  With the helicopter sitting atop of a utility trailer, Jack and I sat quietly waiting for sufficient daylight before lifting off.  I noticed that Jack kept staring at a large pole that was about fifty feet away from where we sat.  My gut instinct told me that he suddenly have reservations about his choice for a landing zone.  I turned to Jack and asked if he wanted me to get a truck and move the helicopter and trailer before lifting off.  Without missing a beat, Jack smiled and uttered the following:  “If we hit that pole, we were never going to make it in the first place.”  Seconds later, the we lifted off and away we flew as the sun rose in the east.  Two days later we finished the project and I never saw or heard from Captain Jack again.  Every  time I see a small helicopter it causes me to wonder about Jack.