This column is a continuation of last week's story of my trip to work in Alaska. I am writing this story to give background to the opinions expressed in The Alternative. There is no such thing as unbiased news. The messenger's background is as important as the message itself. So as you read The Alternative be mindful of the basis of my opinions.
Last week we left off as I caught a float plane to logging camp at Rowan Bay on Kuiu Island. Kuiu is east of Baranof, on which Sitka is located. Ordinarily a plane would fly around the end of Baranof to get across the channel to Kuiu in order to stay below the clouds.
But, oh boy, we had a clear day. It was like threading a needle as we were off the water but under the McConnell Bridge on take-off. That little four-place Cessna felt like an amusement park ride as it raced to clear a craggy pass. I felt like I could reach out and touch the rocks and snow just beyond the wingtips. Soon we made a gradual decent across the channel and onto a glassy Rowan Bay.
The camp had a mess hall, a generator shed with a huge diesel generator, an office with commissary and bunk houses made out of mobile homes. The generator shed had a changing room attached so a big fan blew warm air through the room to dry our clothes overnight.
Machine operators could bring their families to live at camp. The kids went fishing while we were at work so we had salmon or halibut every other night for supper. It was pretty fun to see the little kids hauling these huge fish home as we rode in from work in the evening. The other nights we enjoyed New York strips. Loggers require huge amounts of calories. Vegetarians would whither and get hauled away. We could take a steak to work in foil and put it on the yarder's intake manifold and the chaser would send them out on the rigging for lunch.
The type of logging we did was called high-lead. The yarder was a tower that folded down for transport, built on an old army tank. The tower served the same purpose as a topped tree used to; to gain elevation for dragging the logs. Roads were built with large crushed rock over the soft ground.
The rigging was attached to the mainline at one end and haulback at the other. It looked like a giant fishing swivel and had several places to attach chokers. The chokers had a bell that slid on the cable and a nubbin on the end that went around the log and fit in a keyhole shape in the bell to choke the log. The mainline was heavy cable to pull the logs to the landing. The haulback pulled the rigging back out to the words. It was lighter, so it was pretty dangerous when a log got stuck behind a stump and the yarder operator had to maneuver the log backwards around the stump. If the haulback snaps nothing in its path survives. There were various ways to set chokers so the logs would get a good start around obstacles. It was a time to celebrate, like finding a new calf, when a tricky set avoided a jam.
All this happened on steep mountainsides while climbing over brush and log piles up to twenty feet deep. There is no selective cutting in high-lead for a couple of reasons. It would be impossible to pull the logs through standing timber and all the trees depend on each other for support. The roots form a shallow network over rocks and clay and a wind would topple any tree left standing alone.
A forest is like our evolved civilization. There is nothing wrong with being dependent on each other. This dependence is at the root of the joy we feel as human beings.
Next week I will wrap up the Alaskan adventure with the human side of the story.