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The lumberjack opens his eyes wearily, body sore from the previous

day’s 16 hours of labor. The air is crisp and thick, weighed down

heavily by the early morning moisture of the forest. There is a

stillness that he loves about this time of day. It’s just before the

others have risen. It’s before the saws begin to feed their endless

appetite of oak, ash, fir, and pine. Lifting the dark, gritty, scalding

coffee to his lips, he mentally counts the days he has been gone from his

family. He silently laments how many

more lay ahead of him before he can

see his wife. Because the job is all

there is. The job means security for

his family. The job means he may

one day own his own mill. But the job

is never done.

Finishing his coffee, he pulls on his

boots and reaches for his single-bitted

axe. It fits in his hand perfectly, the

handle worn and shaped by sweat,

blood, and an incalculable number

of swings. His calloused thumb

passes gently over the edge, checking

for nicks that can be quickly filed off.

His mind begins to prepare for the

day. He pushes all thoughts of family

to the side, suspending actual time

because there is only the job. He joins his crew in the back of the wagon pulled

by the ancient gray draft horse. In an hour they’ll be far from camp, wrestling

with their two-man saws, dancing with death in a ballet of wood chips, falling

giants, and meager pay. This is his life and he would choose no other.

He is a lumberjack.

These days, you’re more likely to see burly, bearded men debating the

amount of citrusy hops in their favorite microbrew, holding their mugs

with soft, unworked hands and dressed in pristine imported flannel

shirts than a real lumberjack. Gone are the vast camps of adventurers,

miscreants, wanderers, misfits, and day-laborers that sought a paycheck

felling timber. Men that reshaped the face of this country with their sweat,

unbreakable backs, and a desire to keep the lumber industry alive and

well. As far as tough trades go,

lumberjacks are near the top of the list.

In the 1800s up through the 1940s,

from Washington State to Maine,

Michigan to Louisiana, hordes of men

would descend upon the endless

forests. With little more than hand

tools, they cleared thousands upon

thousands of acres of land. They

dropped trees of staggering size.

They moved them to the intersecting

network of rivers and tributaries, and

floated them to their sawmill

destinations. At no part of that

process did they not risk their lives,

often for pennies a day,

even by today’s standards.

Across the country, ancient vegetation

like the giant Sequoias of California succumbed to the endless barrage

of saws often wielded by large teams of men. But the epicenter of the

logging world, Bangor, Maine, was known for cutting and shipping more

timber than any place on the planet. As the 19th century wore on and

American expansionism moved ever westward, it was accompanied

by the nomadic lifestyle of the lumberjack.

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