Woodcraft 13: The Ranger

29 08 2014

I daresay everyone — to include those who live in the Arctic — everyone on the planet knows about wood and where wood comes from.  Human beings have been using wood longer than they’ve been able to read and write. Too few, however, realize that the sources of wood must be managed. Management is not walking into a forest and cutting anything and everything considered useful and hauling it away. That’s not management, that’s mining. Management is what my grandfather August practiced.

He owned his own small forest measuring almost 2000 acres located outside Waupaca.  This he tended according to established principles of German forestry, which meant in part that he practiced intensive care of the landscape of trees.  He also worked as a private consulting forester for his brother’s mill and for other owners of wood lots in the area.  For these clients, he went by established principles of American forestry.  Either way, German or American, he had to spend a lot of time in the woods.

He inspected individual trees and trees in groups called stands.  He identified them by species and measured their size, age, shape, health, and vigor. 

He did a tally, counting the trees. 

He checked for insect pests and diseases.

He assessed the risks of fire.

He studied the lay of the land and the flow of water over the land.  He sampled the soils of the land.

He noted the kinds of flora and fauna living there with the trees in the forest.

Doing all this during a long walk is what is called a timber cruise.  Putting all this together, one can calculate the quality of the forest and estimate its value to man and to nature. 

In estimating the forest’s value, my grandfather would then be able to tell someone how much wood existed of what kind and of what use.  Kind refers to species.  Use refers to whether the wood is good for pulp and paper; for posts and poles; for structural lumber such as studs and beams, or sash and frames, or shingles and shakes, or flooring and siding; for plywood and veneer; for furniture; for chemicals such as turpentine and tannins. The list can be a big one.

My grandfather could advise someone on the best ways to harvest wood.  Trees can be cut in a manner that will ruin the landscape for centuries.  That’s wood mining.  Other procedures cut the trees in a manner so as to maintain the landscape and allow trees to grow and grow again for centuries.  My grandfather would be able to advise someone on the best ways to replant the forest, and on the best ways to keep the existing forest green year after year indefinitely. That’s called sustained yield by professional foresters.  My grandfather would add that’s good stewardship.

Not everyone wants to have trees just to sell someday to a mill, of course.  Some want trees to provide a home for wildlife because they like the wildlife.  Some want trees just to have trees, because they like forests.  Some want trees just to have trees, because the Earth likes forests.  Some want trees just to have trees, because God must like trees in particular.  After all, he placed Adam and Eve in a garden called Eden, a place full of trees.

So my grandfather in his role as a forest ranger walked. He walked nearly every day, every week and every month, year after year, for decades. One day, however, after the onset of a nasty disease, he went too far.

Initial symptoms of the disease are weakness and fatigue.  My grandfather had just passed 70 years of age.  At first, he thought he was simply getting old.  He had also gradually become more and more thirsty.  He believed in drinking water, so drinking more seemed like a good thing to do.  As for the increasing frequency of urination, again he chalked that up to old age.  Then came some tingling in the hands and feet, which he could not explain to himself.  The symptom that snared him, however, was the reduced resistance to infections.

As a tough guy, he wouldn’t let old age keep him out of his forest.  He made his rounds that past autumn despite cold feet.  He had had cold feet before, many times, but he was tough. 

He kept walking that past autumn despite cramps and despite climbing pain. So? He was getting old.  He would nevertheless keep going.  He was tough, and he would resist old age.

He kept walking that past autumn despite corns on his feet.  Well, what ought one expect when breaking in a new pair of logger’s boots?  Besides, he had had corns and calluses before.  They would go away.

That past autumn, however, one of those corns became ulcerated.  Because of the narrowing of the blood vessels in Grandfather’s legs due to the onset of that disease, the blood did not circulate well.  The lesion on his foot did not heal well.  Indeed, it did not heal at all, no matter how long Grandfather waited.  And he waited, toughing it out, too long.  The lesion became infected with gangrene, some terrible additional disease I had heard about watching the cowboy TV shows.  It meant that my grandfather eventually — after he could wait no longer, after his wife would not allow him to wait any longer — had to have an amputation.

That winter, doctors cut his left leg off below the knee.

Some Christmas present for Grandfather.  One foot and part of a leg gets taken away.  So, too, his house and some of his land, which he exchanged for a new house on a smaller parcel of land located some many miles from his home.

We received a telephone call from Aunt Karla one sunny morning during strawberry season the next year.  She and Uncle Joseph wanted to take themselves and their kids on a two-week vacation.  “Do you think,” she asked my mother, “that you could come over and help Halfrida while we’re away?”

Grandmother and Grandfather had moved, rather suddenly, from Waupaca to Neenah. They sold the old house in which they had lived for decades, the one in which Grandfather himself had been reared.  They bought a new one, and transported selected belongings from one place to another.  Permanently. 

“Why did Grandfather and Grandmother have to move?” I asked as we rode in my mother’s car from Wisconsin Rapids toward the Fox Cities. 

“Your grandfather’s condition all but required it,” my mother answered.  “He needs on-going medical attention, and the old house was not all that close to the hospital in Waupaca.  Moreover, he needs on-going nursing care.  Your grandmother has been more than willing to try, but you know that your grandfather can be trying.  Your grandmother can do only so much at her age.  She needs help.  Your Aunt Karla thought it would be good for them to move close to her family’s home, close enough to allow her more easily to help day after day.”

 “What does Aunt Karla do that Grandmother can’t?” I asked.

“The main thing is to gang up on your grandfather,” my mother said.

“What?” my sister asked. 

“Your grandfather has always been the kind of man who takes charge.  Of himself.  Of his family.  Of his business.  This illness is forcing some changes.  He doesn’t like being forced.  But change he must.”

“How must he change?” Joanna asked.

“Well, first and foremost, he must realize that he can’t do the things he used to do,” my mother answered. 

“You mean, like walking,” I said.

“We all hope he can walk.  He’s got to accept an artificial limb, though.  And he has to learn how to use that artificial limb.  In order to be able to use it, he has to work to manage his disease.  He has to do the things that will improve his health enough so that he can use the artificial limb without causing more damage to himself.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Try that again, Kurt.”

“Oh.  What must he do to manage his disease?”

“He must do many things,” my mother answered.  “First, he must stop or all but stop eating sweets.”

“You mean, no more candy?” Joanna asked.

“That is correct.  No more candy, among other things.”

“No more cake and ice cream?” I asked.

“No pie?  No cookies?” Joanna asked.

“Why are you so surprised?” my mother asked.  “We’ve told you this before, your father and I.”

Yes, but the magnitude of the problem hadn’t been realized.  It was hard for Joanna and me to believe that anyone would have to do without dessert.  That just seemed an impossible task, like trying to live without air.

“And that’s tough for a man who likes his pastry and his chocolate,” Mother confirmed.

“No chocolate at all?” Joanna and I both exclaimed.

“That’s not all,” Mother said.  “Grandfather must eat less fat.  That means cutting out or cutting way back on meats and dairy products.  And that’s tough for a man who likes his butter and cheese, his sausage, ham, bacon, and other pork.”

“What about hotdogs and hamburgers?” I asked.

“The list includes those items, too.”

I shook my head.  “That’s bad,” I said.

“Your grandfather needs to lose weight,” Mother said.

“He’s not fat,” Joanna protested.

“No, not by much,” Mother agreed.  “But he does need to lose twenty pounds.  It’s been months now, and he’s lost only five.  You see, your grandfather doesn’t like all these changes that have come into his life.  He has to stop eating a large number of foods he likes to eat.  Moreover, he has to eat smaller meals and more of them.”

“Why?” Joanna asked.

“We’ve told you that diabetes is a disease wherein glucose and insulin are the critical concerns.  If the body does not make enough insulin, the body cannot use enough of the glucose that is present in the blood from eating food.  Eating too much food at a sitting overloads the body’s ability to produce the insulin necessary to process the glucose.  So, Grandfather must eat, say, six times a day instead of three.”

“You mean, he gets to eat two breakfasts, and two lunches, and two dinners?” Joanna asked.

“You can say he can eat two breakfasts, two lunches, and two suppers.  He may not eat any dinners.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Dinners, by definition, are too big.  Grandfather must eat smaller meals more frequently.  And again, that’s tough for a man who likes a big, lumberjack-style breakfast early in the morning, and a full dinner at noon, and a supper in the evening.  As you know, your grandfather has his set routine, and he demands punctuality.  Breakfast is at 6 o’clock in the morning.  Dinner is exactly at noon.  Supper is at 6 o’clock in the evening.  Now that routine has changed.”

“And he doesn’t like the changes,” Joanna said.

“You can say that again,” said Mother.

So I said, “And he doesn’t like the changes.”

“Kurt…” said my mother, looking squarely at me.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Even though the changes are good for him, even though the changes are necessary, he is resisting the changes.”

“So what are we going to do?” Joanna asked.

“We’re going to try and help your grandmother help your grandfather, as I’ve said.  Grandfather doesn’t like these changes, and he doesn’t like being bossed by Grandmother.  Nevertheless, he must be bossed.”

“Because he’ll die if he doesn’t make the changes?” I concluded.

“He could die, yes.  That is what we fear.  He will die sooner than necessary, either of hyperglycemia or of heart failure.  Or he will at least make himself more miserable.”

“What does that hyper-word mean?” I asked.

“It means that the cells of your body starve to death because they can’t use the glucose sugar for energy.  The glucose just stays in the blood unused, and that in itself will cause trouble.  Too much glucose in the blood damages nerves and blood vessels.  Such damage in the arteries can cause the heart failure.”

“That’s too bad,” I said.

“That’s why Grandfather is also having to take shots of insulin.”

That both Joanna and I remembered hearing our parents describe.  They had seen to it that we got various shots to guard against such diseases as polio, smallpox, tetanus, measles, diphtheria, and such.   The experience was hard to forget.  Back in those days, the needles were bigger.  And they hurt more.

“Ouch,” I said.  “I wouldn’t want to do that.”

Mother said, “We’re hoping that your grandfather won’t have to continue the shots if he can be successful doing the other things he needs to be doing.  We’re hoping he can achieve relatively good health.”

“Yeah,” Joanna agreed.  “We don’t want Grandfather to die.”

“And that’s why we’re on our way to Neenah.  Your grandmother needs help persuading your grandfather to do the things he needs to do.  She can only do so much.  He will let her do only so much, and even so, she gets tired.  She’s not as young as she used to be.  Aunt Karla has been helping, but they’re going on vacation.  So we are taking a vacation ourselves to Grandfather’s new house.”

woodcraft 4





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