Article and images by Icicle TV Contributor Alex Roberts.
A ring of Carhartt clad folks from around the region gather in the backwoods of the Tierra Learning Center. Tall stands of fir and pine surround the group as they listen to Ken Lallemont of Timber Resource explain the intricacies of properly working a chainsaw as part of the Safety and Woods Worker (SAWW) Course.
The lessons learned from recent wildfires and ice storms have taught local area residents and communities the necessity for proficiency with a chainsaw. “After a few scary close calls, I figured it was time for professional instruction,” Josh Early, a local Farrier and Land Manager, and new father tells me over the morning’s coffee.
“This course empowers homeowners to manage their own land safely and effectively,” says Pavel McGlave, the Tierra Learning Center’s Forest Manager who serves as one of the instructors. He tells me there is a real need for such classes. “Felling trees (yes, felling is the proper term in this context) is becoming a sort of lost art. Many of the experts are getting older and don’t have the ability to teach the next generation. So we hope that this course can pass on some knowledge and make our community stronger.”
“It’s the little things that make you good at what you do,” Lallemont explains in his Midwestern cadence. He has been training Woods Workers for over 20 years, previously serving as a trainer for the International Game of Logging Program. In that time, he learned that careful attention to detail is what keeps a saw running, and keep its operator safe; all the way down to what kind of boots one is wearing, “if the hooves hurt everything just goes to heck.”
Nearly all of the participants, including employees from both the City of Redmond and the White Salmon Conservation District, possess chainsaw experience, but are seeking additional training in the interest of safety.
Raimundo Gallardo, who works on a local chainsaw crew tells me he looks forward to learning about “those extra-ordinary moments, where something maybe doesn’t work the way you want it to, and you need to figure out how to properly deal with it. When I am in the woods I am always learning. I learn something new every day.”
When I visit again at the course’s culmination, I watch participants who started with the very basics a few days ago, approach “problem” trees, and develop a “five point felling plan” for the group to scrutinize. These are trees that perhaps have an awkward lean, might be dead, or present some other hazardous scenario.
They execute their plans, using a specific formula for measurement in a nomenclature I am unable to follow. In a matter of days, they have learned the language, and trained their eye to identify the proper means to fell a tree.
One by one, the trees come crashing down, aimed toward a goal post of pink flagging. Some trunks nail their mark, others come close, but all fall in an eruption of violence. Now possessing the basics, it’s this violent equation of physics that these budding sawyers have the rest of their lives to solve.
I asked Josh Early after the course how he felt about his skills and he confidently told me “Ken and Pavel equipped me with the skills I need to stay safe in the woods for years to come.” In those years to come, it will be his turn to teach his boy the skills he learned here today.
More SAWW Courses will be hosted in the future. Please check the Tierra Learning Center’s website for course announcements and other community events.