SVENSEN - Two piles of alder logs - one towering 20-feet high, the other about five - sat next to a rock driveway leading to a house that's scheduled to be built late this fall on a choice homesite amid 35 mostly timbered acres of Svensen backcountry.

Jennifer Caisse, who owns the land with her partner Michael Bunch, wanted to cut enough cords of wood to ensure a personal surplus and to sell any extra to friends for a neighborly discount. Although we harbored no illusions of cutting the entire stash, Jennifer and I aimed to make a noticeable dent in the alder piles by whittling a dozen or more logs down to burnable size on a splendidly sunny Labor Day that cried out for some heavy-duty physical exertion.

Even though I hadn't cut wood in a while, I'm no rookie logger. I set chokes (steel cables used to drag fallen and limbed trees up hillsides) for college cash on perilously steep terrain near Mount St. Helens when I was 18. Later, when I graduated from the University of Oregon and announced that I was going to start a woodcutting business instead of accepting a job as a high school teacher, my parents bought me my first and only chainsaw, a Jonserud with a 24-inch bar.

A friend gave me one of his spare axes, and I purchased a splitting maul and two wedges. With assistance from an auto mechanic, I bolstered the carrying capacity of my battered '64 Dodge pickup by installing a set of heavy-duty suspension springs and Monroe air shocks.

After a mere week of shopping for gear and refitting my truck, I was in the wood-cutting business. And business was booming in Cannon Beach in the mid-1970s. Wood stoves and heaters were trendy, and many consumers deemed them ecologically correct. Only problem was they needed wood for fuel, and most folks had neither the inclination or the know-how about where nor how to get it.

Seemed like easy money at the time, particularly because I liked to work outdoors. Throughout the fall and winter, I'd load my Jonserud, a sack lunch and a thermos of hot coffee into the Dodge. One or more dogs would jump into the back among the maul, ax, wedges, files, filled gas can and two different types of oil, and we'd head off into the hills.

A good part of the Coast Range was open to wood cutting back then, and regulations were lax compared to nowadays. Depending on whose land I was on, a commercial permit generally was required. The work was hard - sometimes exhausting - but always satisfying.

Filled to the brim, my truck could hold about three-quarters of a cord of seasoned wood, less if the wood was green and wet. Usually the three or four hours of work plus anywhere from a 15-minute to an hour-long round-trip drive would net me $50, a lot of money a quarter century ago. Sometimes buyers would hand me an extra couple bucks after I stacked their newly purchased stash of fir, alder or hemlock.

An added benefit of being a professional wood cutter was the exercise. I didn't need to lift weights when I was manhandling a chainsaw and swinging a 10-pound maul a few hours every other day and tossing hundreds of pieces of split wood into and out of my pickup. Because I had competed in cross country and track in college, I was in good shape and not reluctant to work my butt off. Getting out of breath, even going into temporary anaerobic debt, didn't faze me.

My parents were relieved when I secured a "real" job the following spring. Ever since, my wood cutting has been limited to occasional forays to secure a truck load for myself or my friends. I even gave away my Jonserud soon afterwards.

All of the above and more flashed through my mind as Jennifer and I toiled for more than two hours cutting a couple cords of wood. We sliced through the alder with her Husqvarna saw, split the rounds and stacked the pieces in neat piles nearby. It was a fantastic workout. For fun, we flexed our arms in Schwarzenegger-like poses.

None of the wood left with me; I no longer have a pickup to haul it or a stove to burn it in. But I hardly left Svensen empty-handed: I returned home with sore muscles screaming accomplishment and an afternoon full of fond memories.

Richard Fencsak is co-owner of Bikes and Beyond. His column appears the second and fourth Thursday of each month in The Daily Astorian


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