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Remember wooden lobster traps? Course you do. For over a century they were one of Down East Maine's most enduring symbols - or "icons" as everyone says these days - and tourists couldn't get enough of them - they were so quaint and rustic. People from away would buy thousands of them every summer. Some would put them in the front yard of their summer homes and put potted geraniums on top of them. When summer was ended they'd tie their wooden treasure on their car and haul it back to New Jersey - or some other suspect state. They'd slap a glass top on their trap and use it as a folksy coffee table in their rustic suburban den.
It's when the winter starts getting serious around here - with lots of snow blowing out of the west on an almost daily basis - that I recall the time - many years ago - my friends and I went into the "forest products" business. We wanted to do our part to help provide the raw material for Maine's unique wooden traps. The fact that I survived the woodland experience to tell this story is proof to me that my Guardian Angel is better than most.
Back when lobster traps were made of wood, our town had a trap mill - a place where oak logs were milled-out and sawed into laths and trap frame stock.
This particular year - while I was home from college on winter break - I heard that the trap mill was paying higher than normal prices for oak logs. Knowing that my father would support my hard work and initiative, I asked him if I could borrow his 4-wheel-drive Landrover with power take off and cable and - with some help from two of my friends - thin-out some oak trees on the woodlot he owned down on the Sprague Falls Road.
Dad approved of the plan, only after learning that my friend Charlie - who knew something about felling large, heavy trees - would be there as part of the operation.
Dad's only words of advice: Be careful, son.
I'm sure my friends and I had every intention of being careful, as Dad advised, but, well, stuff happens.
When the operation got underway I remember cutting down a fairly large oak tree and after limbing it, I hooked it up to the 'come-along' on the front of the Landrover. Everything was going fine until the tree got hung-up behind a standing tree. My oak tree stopped dead in its tracks, but the Landrover's come-along kept running, assuming the oak tree would continue to 'come along,' which of course it didn't.
At some point Charlie, who saw the oak tree hung up, ran over and shut off the Landrover and the 'come along.' He then tried to explain what could have happened if the cable on the come-along had snapped and the large hook on the end of the cable came flying back in my general direction.
As I recall, Charlie said something to the effect that the large steel hook on the end of the cable would have come flying back toward the Landrover and gone through my skull like a sharp object through a soft pumpkin. While he was in an instructive mode Charlie also explained that we had to be careful with branches bent by a falling trees. He said when finally freed, branches can swing with great force like a baseball bat and do a lot of damage to anything or any one in its way.
I didn't like the idea of having my head compared to a soft pumpkin but I think I got the point. Once we finished our lesson with Charlie and got things mostly straightened out with the come-along I went on to cut down another large oak.
When it finally crashed to the ground, I began limbing it and as I sawed the last large branch the massive trunk dropped right right on my feet.
What happened then? Well, all I can say is the reason I still have two feet to call my own is because there were about 24 inches of soft snow under the feet the oak tree dropped on. It was around that same time I made the decision to choose a career that would have me working mostly indoors - away from mature oaks.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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