Tag Archives: Stan

Frost Valley #8: True Trees & Heavy Steel

Frost Valley was named for a reason and a requirement for the private estate where I found myself being a handy man was two well-stocked woodpiles, one for the main house and one for the caretaker’s place. The caretaker, Stan, had been on the estate long enough to keep an eye out for promising firewood trees.

Once the early rush to keep grass mown and weeds out of the garden began to settle down, the earth in the forests had firmed up enough to get the 4X4 GMC Scout into the woods with a trailer. So we found ourselves tossing a chain saw and pry bars onto the trailer and setting out into the woods on barely noticeable ruts being overlapped with the branches of hardwood forest.

trees & steel photo

I figured we’d be searching for dying trees or gnarly old snags that would beautify the forest if removed, but Stan quickly set me straight. Perhaps such harvesting would beautify the forest, he agreed, but his job was to cut and split wood. And splitting gnarly snags and dying, unpredictable wood was a pain in the keester. Nope. He had his eye on the healthiest, straightest, most handsome trees in the forest—two or three he’d been eyeing for several years.

And handsome they were. Perhaps Elms? No matter. They stood straight and strong, with no branches for a long way up the trunk. I ended up appreciating that last detail.

It seemed a shame to me, chopping down such beautiful trees, but down they came.

In a surprisingly short time the first load was cut into foot-long sections, just right for the estate’s stoves, and loaded on the trailer. We hauled them to the shed area of the estate’s main compound, dumped them on the ground, and went back for more.

It would have taken less time if the final load had come out as easily as the rest of them. As Stan parked the Scout in the best place to pick up the last load he expressed concern for what looked like a soft spot in front of the Scout. But after testing the spot with his toe he figured it would be “OK.” Once the wood was loaded and the tools were in the back of the Scout it took only twenty feet for the weight of the load to turn “OK” to “creamy mud.”

Getting out to lock the front hubs of the Scout left us squishing in our socks. The granny gear and the four wheel drive just meant four wheels were digging in rather than two.

We cut our losses and walked back to the compound to get the tractor.

Next came the splitting—whether the logs we had just harvested or the dried harvest from the year before I don’t remember.

I do remember being taught how to split wood. First, to take the time to simply look at the cut end of each piece. Find the places it wants to be split. They are easy to find once you look for them—little cracks, usually around the edge, where the wood is already splitting. Then get the heavy maul high overhead and put most your effort into getting the sharp edge as close as you can to the little crack you’ve chosen. Yea, there is some effort put into the power to drive the maul through, but mostly gravity and the heavy steel will provide the oomph. Getting it where it will do the most good is what pops that wood open and sends two pieces clattering across the ground.

There is, of course, one other secret to splitting wood, and it is the secret that will keep you from having to twist and pull your maul out of a piece of wood that didn’t split. While reading the wood check the sides of the log for knots, the places where branches once were. You can split wood with the knot coming out the left or right side of your split, but no matter where the little cracks are running, if you try to drive your maul through a knot you will be putting more work into extracting the steel than it takes to split a dozen logs that pop right apart.

Trust me, I soon came to appreciate Stan’s insistence on trees that were straight and true and who’s branches (meaning strong knots) began way up the tree.

I was not a very strong guy, but I am six foot four, so by the time that maul smacked into those hardwood logs there was plenty of travel in that steel. I got to where I could split wood with the best of them and was surprised at how quickly those trees were turned into cords of split wood.

I can’t say as I’d want to make a living at it, but to this day I enjoy splitting wood. There is something very satisfying when the halves go flying several feet in two directions, as if the wood is glad to be liberated from itself.

Frost Valley #7: Hippies & Women

During my stay in Frost Valley, there were a few times Stan and I would run into folks who ignored the No Trespassing signs and pulled off the road to park beside Clear Creek for a picnic or camp-out.

One night we were driving back from a meeting of the volunteer fire department in Claryville when Stan impressed me by noticing some bent grass beside the road. Sure enough, following the tracks just past the willows we came upon a car. We kindly let the occupants gather themselves before politely letting them know they’d have to move along.

Another night Stan brought the Scout to a screeching halt in front of the barn I was staying in. The urgency in his voice startled me and I jumped up when hearing he needed my help. The Scout kicked gravel as we sped to the caretaker’s house, where Stan ran in and got his sidearm, something I had no idea he had. Then we were off, speeding down the valley while he explained he’d come across a bunch of hippies camping on the property and there were lots of them and he needed my backup while controlling the situation.

We have to remember, this was 1969. The battle of Vietnam was being fought on the home front as well as in Asia. Lines were drawn between long haired hippies and decent society. Both had their fears of one another.

Well. Stan knew I was something of a hippy. Even though I had cut my hair short to avoid confrontation on the back roads of America, I was, after all, hitching about the country and not in the war.

I don’t remember much about that fast ride a few miles down the twisty road, but I do remember keeping a calm voice and trying to mellow the situation out—all the while hoping we did not run into a camp of armed jackasses demanding some claim to camping that the State of New York did not grant them.

We got to the little service road leading to the hippy’s hidden spot and turned in. The camp had been picked up and their vehicles were in the last stages of being packed. Perhaps thanks to my being there Stan was able to see there was no threat coming from these young people in clothes that harkened back to our great-grandparents.

Stan ended up apologizing for having to kick them off the land and then explained there were public camping spots up the valley, owned by New York State. By this time it was dark and Stan continued, “You might have trouble finding the turn off. Follow me. I’ll take you there.”

My heart sings to this day, thinking of Stan jumping the divide that separated our nation.

Shortly after the hippy incident, we were in the Scout checking out the property when Stan observed, “You know, Dean. I’ve noticed. Every time I have to kick out hippies they always clean everything up real good. I never have had to pick up one scrap of anything. But these damned middle-aged women. They seem to think they can leave crap all over the place and everyone else should clean up after them.“

I quit worrying about hippies getting hurt in Frost Valley.

Frost Valley #2: Illuminated

Not every night, but on occasion Stan would take an evening drive up and down Frost Valley, checking that the buildings and properties of the 3,000 acre estate were as they should be.

One late dusk he ask if I’d like to come along. I hopped in the the blue Scout’s shotgun seat and we headed up the valley. As we were passing the meadow where I had seen the baby skunk a flicker of light caught my peripheral vision. My mind quickly processed it to be the headlights of the Scout glancing off a discarded metal can next to the road. Just as quickly the idea was dismissed — reflected light could not have come from that angle. 

Instinctively I turned toward where the flash had come from and immediately found myself shouting out, “STAN! STOP THIS TRUCK ! ! !”

Rather alarmed, Stan slammed on the breaks as I opened the door and was jumping out as the Scout stopped. Without hesitation I was running across the meadow, my arms outstretched in joy, ignorant of where I stepped.

My heart races to this day remembering my anticipation of arriving on the far side of the meadow, nearest the fishing hole, where they were the thickest. Once there I could only twirl and twirl in exaltation — they were so beautiful and so silent and so mystical and joyful and unpredictable. They were just so present in the warm gathering darkness.

They were fireflies. firefly meadow

I was raised in the West. We have no fireflies. I had seen Disney’s Song Of The South and had figured the animated dances of randomly glowing lights in the background landscapes were as real as Sugar Plum Fairies.

When you are twenty-two years old and see actual fireflies for the first time, thick like they were in that meadow, they are one of the most elating experiences you can imagine. Magic. Lighted life, adding dimension to the night with soft glows ramping brighter and dimmer, on and off, floating randomly over and through the tall grasses.

It took me a while to calm down. My twirling slowed. My shouts of glee and Oh My God and Look! Look! Look! quieted. I caught my breath. Lowered my arms. Stood and soaked in the moment and the meadow and the magical insects. Finally I walked back to the Scout.

Stan was standing on the far side of the truck, his door open and watching my return. I had been unaware of him before but now realized he was laughing. Hard. Big, gleeful lungs-full of laughs. As we got in the Scout he confided, “I’ve only known one other guy from the West. He acted exactly the same way.”