I tend to meander through the past sometimes–more often as I get older. Meandering is a perfect word for my thought process since it means there is no obvious direction involved, nothing of substance happening, and no specific goal in mind. Just about anything can set off my meandering. A log truck tried to turn the corner too short as it came out of the woods just down the road from my house. As a result, the rear wheel of the trailer deposited about twenty pine logs on the road. Traffic was held up in both directions. As is the southern custom, when traffic stops anywhere, you get out of the car and walk to wherever the source of the holdup is. Part of that effort is to find out what caused the holdup but the most important element is the opportunity to tell those in charge of clearing up the situation how to do it.
It was the smell of the newly-cut pine logs that set off my meandering that day. When I was growing up in the little hamlet of Hallsboro, the lumber industry was second only to farming as the main economic source for the inhabitants. Even if you were a farmer, you often cut some of the trees off the farm to either clear the land for planting or just because you needed the money to tide you over until the crop came in that fall.
Cutting timber assaulted and embraced the senses. Not all the woodland was swamp where I grew up but it was usually wet nevertheless. So when folks went in to cut the trees, the traffic of tractors and trucks created a muck that not only made manuvering difficult but generated a smell of mud and oil and rosin unique to that activity. Combine that with the smell of a fire burning debris created by the logging and you have an aroma that lingers and resurfaces in the meandering mind of an old man long after the scene has dissapeared from the landscape.
That dormant odor of the woods stimulated my memory of the sounds associated with that time and place. There was the ringing thud of an axe; the regular, sharp, scrapping sound of the cross-cut saw as two men rhythmically cut through a towering tree, the shout of “timber!” to warn of the impending crash of the falling arbor and the powerful silence that followed the crash: a quiet reverence.
Settled in among those old sounds, like the notes of a music chord, is the laughter of the men. Sometimes that laughter was shaded by some rough language that just provided a background like timpani to the brass and strings of the conversations. They were young men learning from old men, learning how to work together to accomplish a job none of them could do alone, a job replete with traditions as old as the need for men to furnish lumber to provide shelter for their families. Neighbors “swapped work”, assisting each other when none of them could afford to hire help. They were glad for the help and loved the fellowship of labor. It was hard, dirty, back -breaking work but it was honest work and generated a pride among the loggers, a pride that came from doing a job well.
Out of those nascent sights and smells emerged a scene that refocused in my meandering mind. There were men in overalls and long, denim jackets, wide felt hats, and “brogan” shoes toiling in the mud under tall pine trees. They pulled the newly fallen logs to the loading deck with an old tractor, loaded the logs on old trucks, using cant hooks and chains to keep the load steady. They were black men and white men: dressed the same, did the same work, got the same pay, bought their clothes and food at the same stores, shared life together.
It’s amazing what a meandering mind can dream of. In fact, while I was writing this I remembered something my Grandmother Council said many years ago: “Sometimes my mind wanders just for the sake of wanderin'”. I agree with that.