You would think after being retired for ten years he would have finally gotten to where he could sleep later than 3:30 a.m. Cyril sighed quietly to himself, careful to be quiet and not wake Sarah. She was like a cobra ready to strike if jolted awake, and he certainly had no need of that at this time of day. Softly and carefully he rolled out of bed and padded gently out of the room toward the stairs.
Years of habit involved in that maneuver. Make sure to hit the left of that fourth step, otherwise it squeaked. Need to fix that. How many was it? Must be forty…no, forty five years. Been in this house a long time. Some days it seemed like yesterday. Hmpff. Time to shake the fog out of his brain. Make some coffee, switch on the news and see what disasters had played out around the world while he slept. No surprises there, he thought grimly. Israel probably bombed somebody, or somebody bombed Israel, politicians around the world were lying about some damned thing, as usual…people were starving in small countries all over the globe, and businessmen everywhere were screwing everyone else for money. Not much point in turning the damned TV on, really. Getting to where the commercials were more interesting than anything else. That was a sick thought.
Cyril Albert Tomasohn. Family called him Cy, friends and co workers generally called him Wheaties. God, what a name, he thought. They had tagged him with it the first day at work up there in the hills.
“This here’s Cyril, and he’s gonna be startin’ settin’ chokers today. You boys show him the ropes, hey?” The voice of the foreman boomed in the still of the early dawn hours and seemed to disturb the fog lying all around them.
“Cyril?!! What the hell kinda name is that?!! You some kinda cereal? Like Wheaties?” One of the crew having some fun. Pitching shit at the new guy.
“Wheaties?!!!”, chorused the rest of the crew. The nickname stuck. Permanently. It had angered him some at first, but then it didn’t matter. That first day had been a son of a bitch. Hell, the first month had been rough, and it had taken everything he had to just keep up and not get maimed or killed. Stumbling around in the brush and blackberry vines hooking choker cables around logs was not a fun time. He was bleary and numb when he finished for the day, and it got to where he couldn’t tell much difference from day or night. It was all a blur. But he survived. Never got to where he enjoyed the work, but did get to where he could do it as well as any on the crew.
And then the choker broke on him. He had heard it snap, and almost at the same instant felt fire and pain over his right eye. The world slipped into slow motion and he remembered Tooter cradling him in his arms and Candy pushing a dirty rag onto his forehead. Hard. And the world just slipped away for a while. The wire rope had left five deep gashes across his forehead just above the eye. Looked like Frankenstein when they patched him up.
“That’ll heal, Wheaties,” Tooter had told him a few days later. “You’re lucky it didn’t take your eye out, or worse, take yer damn head off. ”
“That’s a fact,” nodded Tate. “Look, kid, you’re a good hand and a hard worker, but settin’ choker cables ain’t something you wanna do the rest of your life. Hell, lookit’ me. All busted up, hopin’ to stay steady and maybe get a job at the mill to get away from this. I tried to be a tree faller once-wasn’t any good at it. Now all I want is to get an easier job and leave this behind. I can’t keep up anymore, and everybody knows it. You pay attention to what I’m telling you, Wheaties. You find another way to work in the woods if that’s what you want. Go fall timber, or work on the road crew, or learn to run a loader or something-just get away from chokers. I seen too many guys messed up because of it.”
A long speech from Tate, but it had stuck. And after the first day back setting cables he knew he was done with it. He was scared of them now. And that was going to probably get him hurt again. He could feel it coming. Time to move on. And so he had stopped by the foreman shack at the mill and talked to the woods boss one afternoon after shift.
“Yeah, what you want?” He was a gruff bastard. Big fat guy, red in the face, always looked like he was ready to explode. And he did, Cy remembered. Had a massive coronary while screaming at a cutter for not bucking the limbs off close enough to the log. No one got too shook up to see him go, that’s for sure.
“I want to learn to cut timber.”
“Yeah, you and about a hundred other assholes. You’re that kid that got hit by the choker, huh?
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Heard about that. You scared of it now?”
“Yes, I am. Hate to admit it, but I am.”
“”Yeah. Let me show you something.” And with that the guy stood and took off his shirt. His chest looked like it had been plowed. There were angry wide red scars running from his navel to his right shoulder. Cy had flinched when he saw them.
” I got scared of them too, kid. I almost bled to death before they got me down to a doctor. I was lucky we weren’t working way up on top somewhere. Pretty ugly.” Boss put his shirt back on and looked at Cy.
“I worked my ass off setting chokers for three years. Guy that was a faller took pity on me, I guess. I went back after this healed over, and like you, I was scared. I could still do it, but I wasn’t good at it anymore. Too scared to do it right, I think. Anyway, this guy got me on with a timber falling crew, and here I am today.”
The boss looked out of the only window in the place, covered with dirt and fly specks, and chewed on the stub of an unlit cigar for a time. The heat made the tin roof tinkle and ping as it warmed up. He turned back to Cy and looked him hard in the eye.
“You get yourself a good pair of caulks tonight and you make double damn sure you get here on time tomorrow morning. You report to Sweeney. He runs a cutter crew. I’m sure you know who he is. You’ll be doing shit work for a while, but you’ll learn. And if you don’t, I’ll personally fire your ass, and make sure you never work for this company again. Anywhere. You got that?”
“Yes sir, I got it.”
“Well? You need to be a memory-I got shit to do. Shove off. But don’t think I won’t keep an eye on you.”
And so Cy had gotten the pair of boots and had been there sharp in the morning when Sweeney arrived. And he had been there every working morning afterward for more years than he cared to remember sometimes. He had learned the craft well, and was one of the best cutters around for many years. He loved falling trees. He loved the sound of the woods when it was early, before the first saw was fired up. The air was clean and sweet beyond compare up in the woods, up in the old growth.
By the time the 60’s rolled around the old forests were pretty well gone. Oh, there were still a few giants left standing in some spots, but best he could remember by about 1965 give or take, it was gone. The last of them he had cut were way up top, at a place generally called the Point, or Hi Point by some. They were giants, and it saddened him to see them topple one by one. The woods boss came by the day they were working on the last of them. He stared at the six left standing as the cutters moved in for the last of it. Kicking at some rocks and chips he sighed, and called out.
“Hold up fellers.”
“What’s up, Boss?”
“Leave em be.”
“What you mean?”
“I mean, leave those six. Buck limbs off the downed, pack your gear and go down.”
“But, we’ll catch hell for leaving them stand.”
“No, you won’t-I run this show. Leave em’.”
The Boss walked a ways west to the ridge and looked around. It was a grand spot with a view of the Pacific one way, forests and hills everywhere else, and to the east, Mt St. Helens, Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier, all looming high and snow covered off in the distance. He sighed, grunted, nodded to the men, and got in his truck and drove off.
Cy and the crew never questioned the man’s decision after that. The six stood silent, tops swaying slightly in the breeze way up there, their butts solid as the rock ledge they were tucked behind some thirty feet below where Cy was standing. They were huge old things. He remembered watching them slide from view that afternoon out the window of the crew crummy. Still standing. The only thought that came to him was respect.
Cy had taken Sarah up to Point several times over the years. He enjoyed the drive up the old logging roads and was interested in what the crews were up to as they glided across the hills and creeks laced throughout the landscape. When the girls were old enough they made a day of it, packing a little lunch and sitting among the Six. Generally they went on a Sunday, as that was the best chance of not running into log traffic on the narrow roads.
“Daddy, its Sunday. Shouldn’t we be in church?”, one of his daughters asked once.
“We are in church Kathy. You couldn’t ask for a better church than this.”
Cy poured a second cup of coffee and stopped. Hell with mowing the grass. He grabbed another cup, filling it half and dumped some cream in. Up the stairs, hitting the fourth step hard and letting it squeak loudly, he went into the bedroom where his wife stirred slightly.
“Sarah, wake up, girl. I think we need to go visit some friends today. I’d be most happy if you would ride with me to Point and said hello to the Six with me.”