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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Working with wood is a joy to behold

John Eggers

I can understand why Bemidji is such a fine city. Its founders, Native Americans and lumberjacks, were pretty smart people because they worked with wood. I have come to the conclusion that there is a strong connection between people who work with wood and intelligence. Let me prove a point.

Before moving to Lake Julia, we lived on 20 acres in Frohn Township, half of which was wooded. I discovered that a great stress reliever was going into the woods to cut up dead trees and then neatly stacking them. One day I made an effort to cut down a dead tree where the top had broken off and was leaning on another tree. I think they call these widow makers.

After calculating where I should cut, I proceeded to cut and suddenly heard the top crack. Without looking up I began to run in the snow with my chainsaw. I stumbled over a tree branch and while falling the tree hit me square on top of my head. My chainsaw flew in one direction, my glasses in another and me in yet another direction. Had I not already been falling at the time, which served to cushion the blow, I may have been knocked unconscious or worse. Instead, that tree just knocked some sense into me. This is how people who work with wood get smart fast. They learn to make better decisions.

For this reason I have always been an advocate of having students at some time in their schooling career spend at least several months cutting, splitting and stacking wood. It would help them become better decision-makers.

I used to get all of my firewood from the students at the Minnesota Juvenile Center in town. The students would cut wood for restitution purposes. The kids were always very polite and did an excellent job. They even carried the wood up to our second floor and stacked it along the deck railing. I am sure they appreciated the opportunity to get away from school and out in the fresh air. Did it make them smarter? How could it not? Experience is always the best teacher. It's too bad they no longer have the program.

My first experience with wood was when I was about six or seven. I would watch our friend, Joe, split wood for his mother so she could use it in the cook stove. Sometimes he would have to use a steel wedge on some of the tough pieces. As I recall, he even let me and my brother split a few chunks. There is nothing like the sound of wood cracking when hit just right with an ax or splitting maul.

My experience with the Boy Scouts taught me how to identify trees and how to start a fire. We learned that oak was the best source of heat but if you wanted to start a fast fire, poplar and pine were good. Now that it is getting colder, I will start a daily wood fire and use those skills learned a long time ago. I wish I had more oak to burn.

If you work with wood every day for even just a half hour or an hour, that's all the exercise you need. It takes stamina, strength, coordination and you have to be focusing on what you are doing or you may have a tree fall on your head. My advice is let Mother Nature take care of falling trees for you or hire an expert.

The best part about working with wood is the finished product. You can see the results of your efforts. This is true of working in the woods, in the workshop or in the construction business.

I always enjoyed seeing a nicely stacked cord of wood in the woods waiting to be picked up in the fall. I would even take a picture of it. I am sure woodcarvers and homebuilders feel the same way about their finished product. Pride is developed when you start something and then see it through to the end. The same is true of mowing the lawn.

Henry David Thoreau said, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

There is no greater joy than walking through the woods when the leaves are falling, when there is a chill in the air, when the sun is shining through the branches, when my dogs Simon and Simone are at my side and looking for some fallen trees that Mother Nature has set aside for me.

Thoreau was right. We haven't really lived until we go to the woods. It truly is a joy to behold.

Riddle: What did the grape do when it got stepped on? It let out a little wine! Be careful when you cut down trees. If one falls on your head, you will let out more than just a little whine. 

100 percent graduation rate

A local movement is underway to ensure the area has a 100 percent high school graduation rate. Here's some tips on how you can help us achieve that goal:

1. Remind students that the first step towards graduating is to step into school every day.

2. The more positive role models students have in their lives, the more likely they are to graduate from high school and college.

3. Teachers, daily greet all of your students. Learn what they like and don't like about school. Take a genuine interest in them.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.