Last weekend, we bicycled a mile up the road to visit with our neighbor Pearl Bush, to help celebrate her 88th birthday. Pearl (along with her now deceased husband, Howard) moved to our narrow valley in 1946, bought 160 forested acres, built a small home and barn, and began a largely self-sufficient homesteading life, growing much of their own food, raising a variety of livestock, and, for the next 15 years or so, generating income by running a small logging business. The “toolkit” for their logging operation consisted of little more than a crosscut saw (that is the saw she’s holding in the picture above), a few axes, rope, a horse or two, and a flatbed truck to haul the lumber to market.
It is hard to imagine today, but the portable one-man (or woman) chainsaw did not even exist until the late 1940’s, and would not become commonplace for another decade or more. A well tuned and razor sharp crosscut saw and/or axe—powered by strong and skilled human beings—felled pretty much ALL the timber ever harvested prior to the end of World War II (and all along I’ve thought that I was working hard in my woodlot with my chainsaws).
Here’s a shot of the two of us (for a sense of scale I’m about 5’9″):
Sixty-seven years later, Pearl is still here in Prospect Valley, living in the same house she and her husband built. She’s still full of life and energy, has a great (and occasionally vulgar) sense of humor, and tells unbelievable stories about her long and eventful life that serve as a reminder of how utterly different our world was a few brief generations ago, and of the dignity to be found in a life of honest physical labor in close connection to the earth.
Happy Birthday Pearl. May you have many more.