Ever feel like the hounds of hell are nipping at your heels? No? Well wait a minute son, it’s bound to happen ere the tides of life cease to ebb and flow. Somewhere at some time on the trail ya’ll gonna find yourself "treed" and chances are by time Gabriel blows his trump you won’t be able to number the times on your fingers you’ve found yourself "at bay" wondering how the heck you got here and how in Hades to extricate yourself from the mess you’ve gotten yourself into.
After running free-range for years, imagining life was made up of one great carefree adventure after another, awoke I of a morning to find myself 40 years old swinging the hammer for a family of six and wondering what the heck happened? A family of four had been easy enough to manage but then came two more young’uns, the Carter presidency and inflation.
"Making a go of it" was a lot rougher for someone at the bottom rung back then, whatever one needed he advocated for with sore muscles and the sweat of his brow. Then wasn’t like now as the government makes its rounds through the neighborhood knocking on doors asking if there’s anything at all it can do to enhance your comfort and mine by cutting another tree for pulp, begging a few extra bucks from China or poaching from the citizenry at large. If so just give a call, America has lots of trees, China has an inexhaustible supply of dollars to loan us, and your neighbor has a really big garden. No need to lie down weary at night and arise at an ungodly hour next morning.
If this sounds boisterous or petty, consider what happened at Eureka, Calif., a place I once lived. The county determined that welfare recipients should work and earn their keep under the direction and guidance of the county works supervisor.
That was fine and dandy with those prideful individuals who for unfortunate circumstance had found themselves out of a job and down on their luck, not so fine for members of the crew who were less ambitious, more comfortable leaning on a shovel then wielding it. When the supervisor tried to fire the "less energetic" he was informed that keeping them on was a matter of keeping his own job. For a project foreman with a solid work ethic expecting the duty of a healthy man was to support himself and the purpose of a job was to actually produce stuff or achieve a modicum of self sufficiency that might seem to he, a pretty good definition of being put up the proverbial tree.
Looking back over a long trail of fortune and misfortune, one supposes there were times he might have kept the hounds at bay by petitioning for State assistance but the thought of asking the government for a handout or leg up, though perhaps warranted, just didn’t occur to a lad that had grown up in hard times.
First time I found myself treed was at 18 years of age: times were hard for ridge runners of northwest Arkansas circa 1952 and my fathers move to southwest Washington County to seek his fortune in a robust poultry industry had ended in less than financial success as supply outstripped demand; back home, pretty well treed and facing long idle months my 16 year old brother and I loaded up and headed for summer jobs in California.
Coming off 12 weeks of a vain and frustrating venture with not a single check stub to show for it, all of a sudden finding myself for the first time ever with change chinkling in my pocket and a steady job paying twice the wage I could expect if I returned to the plow or a 75 cents an hour factory job over at Fort Smith, the dial of my compass jiggled westward to newfound wealth, independence and riotous living.
Well, perhaps not so riotous, upon arriving at Susanville California the lad "fell in with good companions" down at a local church and within four months of arrival, gave up my singles status ere I entered into any - many wild adventures. In hindsight, and considering the gal and I have extended our time together to a soon to be 62 years, ya might say that I really, really - really, got treed, just didn’t look at it that way at the time; (reference to hounds and chases omitted from the text).
Working for the Sixth Army in military supply was a cushy job - if your supervisor was vintage metropolitan; if he were from Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma or other point’s south whole different deal. Then you worked your tail off; like stomping snakes. Perhaps it was a union attitude; the city raised would be given a project assignment, and the first thing to mind was the comfort of his crew and keeping them employed. That translates to "we leaned on our shovels a lot so the project would last longer."
Not so with guys from the south, and you could spot him a mile away without being told; no not that all of them had red necks or talked with a southern drawl, they just looked different and had different mannerisms and attitudes. These fellows wanted the field plowed and they wanted it plowed now, the seed planted, the crops grown and harvested ere the sun hit the western horizon at days end. The downside to that was that a project allotted a specific amount of time to complete but finishing days or weeks early either resulted in leisurely and unproductive downtime ere the next assignment, or even a reduction in force.
In charge of small arm ammunitions wherein I labored, was a young laid back buddy type guy loyal to his men; no raiding his crew for other projects in the magazine (munitions storage) area even had we little to do.
Our primary assignment was fetch sample lots of 30- and 50 -caliber machine gun ammunition from storage over at general supply, remove tracer rounds from the ammunition belt or "jacket" cart them miles into the desert and fire them off one round at a time and record how they performed. Problem was the whole enterprise was a cold molasses process and much of our "heavy workload" was spent in-shop, performing such important duties as rolling nickel dice, building paper planes, pitching coins and dozing. Pitching coins is what got us "treed."
For the umpteenth time the "brass" had requested a loan of shop personnel to assist with a project over in heavy munitions, but once more the supervisor citing a heavy workload, turned them down. Wasn’t bad enough that shortly thereafter two lieutenants in charge of the needy project did a walk through and found a backlog of three boxes of ammunition sitting idly on the conveyor, but, half the crew outside pitching coins and the other half looking on. Walking silently on said they nary a word, but with the ring of a phone shortly thereafter, came the faint baying of hounds as the entire crew was ordered to the front office for a tedious visit with the Magazines, civilian field supervisor.
Not to worry; there with the two lieutenants and entire crew looking on was heard the slickest spin ever from the shop foreman and his line inspector the gist of which the coin pitch was sort of a short-straw deal to determine who would brew the next days coffee. Comes to mind the adage that it pays to have friends in high places; unbeknownst to the complainants, the deck was stacked against them as the field supervisor and shop boss were best of buddies; the alibi stood albeit with suggestions of a different arrangement as per the coffee, and with that the two young officers, again with nary a word turned and exited the room. But there are different ways to shake a tree: the shop was soon turned into an assembly line frenzy dismantling obsolete 75-millimeter artillery rounds and I was on my way to a career, romantically referred to these days as an "axe man."
Each time this old axe man spies a big rig rolling down an Arkansas highway with a load of logs cradled betwixt a set of bunks, soft whispers of a melancholy breeze vibrates the heartstrings as thoughts turn back to a long timbering career out across the forested landscapes of California’s northern coastal range, the Mendocino’s, Trinity Alps, and the Sierra Cascades.
Not everyone has the privilege of spending their working career in a scenic environment, with plenty of sunshine and fresh mountain air. Not everyone would want to of course and admittedly there were times the sun refused to shine and the air became a little "fresh."
The work was hard and the job decidedly chancy but what’s danger to the invincibility of youth? Out of my natural element, amongst a culture with a reputation for hell-raising, I fell to the lot by a quirk of fate, survived by pure luck long enough to become seasoned, and experienced to the point of defying the devil himself. Yet, as the years rolled by and. the near misses mounted, more conscious I became of the occupational attrition rate and more fatalistic in my philosophy.
My luck ran out in 1966 beneath a California pepperwood with two crushed vertebra. Might say I finally got treed in the purest sense. Yet I survived to extend my logging career to a period which spanned 45 years until politics and mounting years laid siege. I expect old age will ultimately be the thing that runs me to ground; judging from the raucous yeowling even now the hounds are nipping at my heels.