Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Clearing a Hillside -- The Homesteader's Pastime

Autumn was ending, summer's sunset was disappearing. Colorful fall leaves had fallen from their trees. Squirrels were chattering as they hurried to gather enough acorns for the coming winter. Only winter greens were left in our garden, everything else was harvested and preserved for the winter. Dried herbs, potatoes, and winter squash were in the pantry. A dozen crates of sweet potatoes sat in the corner of an upstairs bedroom. Rows and rows of sparkling jars fill the cellar.

The talk around the farm was of burying water pipes before the freeze, and of transferring our chickens from the barn to the little house. We decided to turn the one-story little house at the back of the holler into a chicken barn, or maybe a chicken hotel. But more than these things, there was a faint talk about something more interesting, something that would later cause my brother to say that when fall comes to an end this very thing should be done every year.

Suddenly, one cool morning, my father and two older brothers climbed one of our steep and slippery hills. The trees covering the hill were so dense that they blocked sunlight from the gardens and solar panels. They had decided to clear several acres of the hill. We would then use the cleared hillside as sheep and goat pasture.

They walked up that hill with a two-man handsaw. My father and older brothers went up to a big tree and started. Back and forth, back and forth, the saw was pushed, then pulled, then pushed again. Nothing seemed to be happening. It took hours to just go several inches into the tree. And there were hundreds of trees to go.

By mid-morning the chainsaw was brought out, and the handsaw was brought back to the tool-shed. Soon the chainsaw's roar was resounding through the holler. Sawdust was flying through the air as the saw was welded against the tree. The face-cut was made. Within minutes, there was a huge thud that echoed through the holler. Afterwards, there was a stillness like after a storm.

Day by day, my father and older brothers would climb onto the hill and set to work, planing to fell 10-15 trees. They had bought another chainsaw as well as some wedges from the local co-op. They also bought chainsaw chaps and helmets to aid in safety. Meanwhile, the weather grew colder and the Tennessee winter settled in.

From the house, the rest of the family could daily hear the roar of chainsaws and the crash of falling trees. Sometimes we would go to a window to watch a tree fall. We'd see our father and older brothers run full speed up the steep hill as soon as a tree would start falling. The hill was slippery and difficult to climb, but they always got out of the way of the falling tree.

From on the hill, the view was spectacular, as if from a helicopter. In winter, when the leaves were off the trees, the view was even better. The houses, barns, pastures, and fields of nearby homesteads woven in between hills, creeks, forests, and sky, made the scene picturesque.

Slowly, but surely, the hill was being cleared. Soon my father and brothers began limbing the fallen trees. The small branches were thrown into large piles. The large, straight tree trunks were to be sent to the sawmill. While everything else was thrown down the hill and stacked, to be cut and split for firewood.

Twice we had someone come out his bobcat to help bring the large timber down the hill. My father and brothers would take a rope that was attached to the bobcat, and then run up the steep hill to a log, attach it, and then the bobcat man would haul it down the hill. This was repeated over and over again many times. Once there was so much tension on the rope that the rope broke and the metal hook flew through the air and hit the bobcat. That was epic.

One day, our grandparents were visiting, and my grandmother climbed up the hill with us to help throw brush into piles and firewood-type pieces down the hill. She and one of my younger brothers came up with a technique of sitting and sliding down the hill, pushing brush with their feet.

At the bottom of the hill, a huge pile of branches was gathered. Although we could burn the smaller brush piles on the hill, this pile was much to big to burn. One day, we decided to rent a chipper-shredder. A neighbor family came over and we had a work day together. We all went to our neighbors' farm and did their branches. Afterwards, everyone came over to our farm and we spent the rest of the day pulling branches out of our huge brush pile and feeding them through the chipper-shredder. The weather was cool, and, as evening came, a light snow began to fall. Before dusk, the brush pile was reduced to a large pile of wood-chip mulch.

On a cold, cloudy day, a timber company came to our homestead. With their knuckleboom, they loaded the choice logs onto their truck. One by one, the logs were lifted in the air and maneuvered onto the logging truck. Within an hour, the logs were off down the country roads to be sold to the sawmill.

By late winter, piles of brush dotting the hill were all that was left on the two-acre cleared portion of the hill. These piles were left to dry for a year, and then were burned. In the flat pasture at the bottom of the hill, huge stacks of logs for firewood were waiting to be cut and split. There was enough firewood to heat our house and cook for around five years. However, we had the large task of splitting it all.

Many large knotted stumps also sat in the pasture, they were much to difficult to split by hand. Therefore, one day, we rented a log splitter. We all spent the day wearing homemade wool jackets, hats, and mittens out in the middle pasture, as we called it. Log after log was put under the log splitter's sharp blade. The blade slowly cut through the wood and split the logs into firewood. Meanwhile, my brothers split piles of logs by hand.

Early spring came and we began to spend more and more time in the greenhouse making soil blocks and starting plants. The effects of that winter's project were clearly seen. From that winter on, the gardens and solar panels had more sunlight. Rows and rows of neatly stacked firewood, to be used in coming years, lined fences. The hillside pasture was planted with grass, and soon frolicking sheep and goats were seen grazing up there.

The effects of that winter were more than directly visible. My older brothers were hooked on the timber business and the next year they set to work clearing a section of another hill. When we moved away from the farm, one of our neighbors said that he'd tell our farm's new owners that if they put their boys up on those hills, they'll turn them into men.


  1. That's really good! I can't wait to read more of your stories!

  2. Thank you! I'll be posting more soon!