The rise and fall of the mighty lumberjack
By Mark Chavez
We are all frightened of lumberjacks. This is a fact that is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. It is important, however, to recognize that as humans, it is common to fear what we do not understand. Let us closely examine the lumberjack to try to better understand these brawny woodsmen of the northern forests.
The lumberjack, or “tree-viking,” was most commonly of Scandinavian or Finnish descent. Canada and the northern United States became home for most of these creatures, as these were areas with vast forests and a great demand for wood. They traveled in packs called “a group of lumberjacks,” moving westward throughout the year felling trees and laughing heartily. Their common dress was a knitted cap (to hide their horns), a thick beard of coarse face-wool, a plaid flannel shirt, suspenders and large boots. They would never be seen without holding a large ax or one side of a crosscut saw. Contrary to popular belief, lumberjacks do not eat trees but are considered to always have a powerful hunger. Most anthropologists believe they dined only on griddle cakes.
Today the lumberjack has become obsolete and, many believe, extinct. Between World War II and the early ’60s the government began to phase out the natural habitat for the lumberjack: the logging camp. Motor vehicles could now transport the common “logger” to remote areas to log wood, and modern conveniences like the feller buncher and chainsaw made the logger a far superior woodsman than the mighty lumberjack. These major advances in technology sent the frightened and confused lumberjacks scampering deep into the forests, into an uncertain future.
Recent sightings of lumberjacks are infrequent and dismissed by many authorities as false, often chalked up to “tricks of the mind” or “someone using a roll of paper towels.” Do they still exist? We cannot be certain, however in the unlikely event that you do find yourself face to face with a lumberjack, keep these pointers in mind as they might just save your life. First of all, try not to stand still. The lumberjack’s urge to chop and saw relies solely on stillness, attacking anything that remains motionless and upright. Remember: Like the common logger, they are considered mindless axing machines with little regard for what stands in their way. Also, like lightning, the lumberjack will strike the tallest trees first, so men and women of above average height are urged to hunch or roll. If you find that the lumberjack is attempting to climb you, simply place your arms to your sides. You’re lucky enough to have come across a “topper”—a certain type of lumberjack that ascends a tree, de-limbing it as he climbs. Lastly, it is not unwise to carry a stack of griddle cakes to distract the lumberjack long enough to make a clean getaway.
The lumberjack’s seat in history is warm, secure and made from the sturdiest of timber; his role in the development of Canada cannot be denied. For that he should be saluted. But please, while saluting, keep your free hand on guard, lest his instincts kick in and he challenges you to a log-rolling competition.
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