Do You Have Springer***?
I have been, as I have for decades, cutting in the woods this winter. I am confident you have heard of it; cutting trees in the Maine woods in the deep snow and below zero weather through the winter months. Cutting alone after walking far into the forest, we are told we are crazy. We are not crazy but we are mad. It is a singular madness; a mature, traditional madness of particular beauty.
I go out with the chain saw, a tool pack of axes, wedges and maintenance tackle and a snow shovel into about two feet of snow. I go out “to the end” on the little foot paths I made packed down to “where I’m cutting”. No one but “recent track” forest life is out there. I edit each of those tracks. Once out there I shovel the “holes around the trees I’m gonna drop”. Then I make the cuts & drop. Then I saw ‘em up, stack ‘em up, pile the slash and… “I’m done”. An average cut is two hours. By the time I’m done I’m soaked with sweat and soaked with melted snow. When I’m doing this there is always a moment, particularly with “a big one”; a big ole White Pine, where one crosses the line. I don’t know if you know this moment but it’s pretty hard to miss if one has been there.
When I am making the drop cut, right at the end, the big ole frozen water sucking butt above the cut pauses a second and then, very slowly, moves across and twists on the stump as it starts it’s fall. Its about 4 or 6 seconds with all quiet excepting the chirping of the saw by my waist as I watch. Then that butt twists off that stump and kicks the full ton of weight of the whole tree backward about 15 feet through the snow going by me at about a foot distance while limbs and Hell brake loose above and fall in smashes down through the other standing trees carrying off more limbs and this fury combines with a whiteout blanket of thumping falling snow engulfing the all of everything in a white wet swirl to form a Force of Nature so profound and of such stunning majesty… that no man can stand in that and not find the very basic oblivion of their self in the hand of the eternal rage that is life. That is about 4 to 6 seconds. Then I’m standing there with only the chirping saw again and… “back to work”.
That force; that display of the shear power of nature; a force so displacing of the arrogant self of a single man... is a madness; a mad man alone with this blind rage against the nothingness of Nature. It is not a clinical madness one finds with a social pattern of a “mad man” “in society”; it is an eternal madness addressed timelessly and alone by a man, alone for himself to appreciate, embrace or… flee from. I am the embrace; I reach to this fury. I suppose it is the moment that Melville sought to portray in Moby Dick or what is found, for example, in J. Conrad’s nigger trapped in the hold of the turned down ship. That one is mad is beyond refute. The proximity of the sudden force negates a verbal warning to self to “beat it”; one should “not be there” “in the first place”. That this madness is salvation… will rarely be embraced by one’s fellows. It is better for most to “get a good parking space” “at the mall of life” and… stay there thank you for doing this. For myself, the absolute force of this fury is and that is an “IS”. To be assured that this integrity may be always released to remind that there is absolute nothingness to a man as he faces Nature in his life is an… opportunity of salvation. It is a stunning way to live. One stands in the actual roar of oblivion for a few seconds. Can there be a more refreshing expression of man’s existence?
The curiosity... of this moth and the flame six second introspective awe… is found recreated in the thematic play of every cut with each second of absolute sameness combined with equal... absolute difference. The other day I had made the cut and as the four seconds of the butt twist began the old giant “turned into me” on the butt meaning, in short, the tree is going to come down on me as I stood. Anticipating the seconds remaining I cut the saw and tossed it off and back while stepping backward in the frozen footage of snow. My eyes do not leave the motions of the twisting butt… but I … fall straight back into the snow for my boot catches. There my eyes see the branches above, against the winter sky, continue the turn and I correct on my back to command to “ROLL” (for one cannot; does not have time, to get up; stand back up and run away) but, as is proper, I have to wait for the fall to begin so as not to “roll into the fall”. The danger and the “life is end” or worse, the “still alive” is as full as a second may be crammed yet just as quick my eye denotes the slight “back twist” as the butt turns BACK and away in it’s “begins the fall” and travels as it was originally directed to thunder through it’s cascade interval and land in whole a requisite twelve feet “away”. The touch of the billow of the whispering, falling snow upon my face clouds the open blue sky above... and melts, wetting my face and warm body. I get up and go back to work.
*** John S. Springer, FOREST LIFE AND FOREST TREES; COMPRISING WINTER CAMP-LIFE AMOUNG THE LOGGERS, AND WILD-WOOD ADVENTURE WITH DESCRIPTIONS OF LUMBERING OPERATIONS ON THE VARIOUS RIVERS OF MAINE AND NEW BRUNSWICK, Harper Brothers, New York, 1851. Annotated references: Sprague, L. F., editor, THE MIRROR OF MAINE, University of Maine Press and The Baxter Society, Orono/Portland, 2000, pgs. 48-49, # 22 and Thompson, E. V., IMPORTANT MAINE MAPS, BOOKS, PRINTS AND EPHEMERA, Stillwater Press, Orono, 2003, pg. 431-432, numbers 340 and 341. A rare Maine book. A Maine classic. A true epistle from the forest; a tome of American forest philosophy. Used by Thoreau as primary reference while in Maine and purchased directly from the publisher by Herman Melville (by written request). Francis O’Brien, the Portland rare bookman, gives us “Do you have Springer?” as a query exchanged between Maine rare book collectors. I take his query into the wild-wood as Thoreau did: When in the forest... “do you have Springer”?