Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mishaps -n- Mayhem: Arterial Bleeding is BAD

Would you allow your seven year old daughter to play in the woods with an axe? Of course not, that would be crazy!  My parents were crazy, and I am ever so thankful!! 

Not everything in Nova Scotia went smoothly. We had our share of mishaps and mayhem.
The process of building a log cabin in the woods, without power tools or prior experience, is bound to create a fast learning curve. It also requires an “all hands on deck” approach.

Our goal that first summer, 1974, was to complete the building of our 12 X 16 one room cabin on a budget of spare change. The budget restraints required that all building material would be found on the land, with the exception of the three windows which we brought with us from our home in Massachusetts, and that child labor would be a necessity. The building site was only accessible by paddling or sailing across our pond or hiking several miles through the thick trail free woods. The remoteness of the land was intentional as my father had previously determined that his family was no longer fit for public camping.

Dad had spent the previous year reading, How to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods. He kept the book in the bathroom and read in short intervals absorbing the information slowly and thoroughly. Although the rest of the family noticed the book and the increased amount of time dad spent in the bathroom, we did not have a clue as to what we were in for. By the time we arrived in Nova Scotia dad was prepared and the rest of us were just beginning to understand his vision.

After exploring our land and picking the spot for our cabin, jobs were assigned. We started by exploring the woods and marking trees of the appropriate diameter which appeared to be straight. My brothers, ages 24, 17 and 15 along with dad would pair off with two man saws to fell the trees. It is important to note that when a tree falls in the woods, you best get out of the way. Eric didn’t, but he is superman and got up and walked away. There are times when a tree would be cut, but refuse to fall. The tree’s branches would get hung up in the upper canopy of the forest and simply lean rather than fall. In that case one of my brothers would climb up the tree with a saw, remove the branches and ride the tree down. I so wanted to do that, but was declared too small.

Once a tree was cut down, we used hand saws, axes and small hatchets to trim it of all its branches. Beth and I, ages 7 and 9, were assigned small hatchets to assist with that process. Once cleaned of its branches and cut into 12 or 16 foot segments the log would be dragged or floated to the cleared site. Afternoons were spent working together to strip the bark off the trees and notch the ends in preparation for the building.

Stripping bark off trees is really not difficult, if done quickly after the tree is cut down. However, the sap is incredibly sticky. Here’s what I learned the moment a chisel flew out of my brothers’ hand, across the clearing and down my sister’s leg: Chisels are sharp, arterial bleeding is BAD and my family moves fast.  Immediately my father began shouting out instructions as he held on to and applied pressure to my stunned sister’s leg.  Mom ran for the first aid kit. Chris dug through the tent for the car keys and proceeded to run through the woods to get the car and drive it to the location across the pond most accessible by boat.  Eric ran down to the shore to get the sailboat ready. Brian helped mom and dad apply a compression bandage to the wound, a deep slice down the side of her leg from knee to ankle. I sat frozen and wide eyed quietly trying to get my sticky chisel out of my hand.

We loaded Beth into the sailboat, and I went with mom and dad for the trip to the nearest hospital which was one pond and 30 miles of dirt roads away. My brothers stayed behind to finish stripping trees and notching the ends. We were on a schedule; work must continue. Our goal must be met; ten logs each day.

Recently at a family gathering Chris noticed the scar on Beth’s leg and said, “I am so sorry I did that to your leg.” Everyone in the room turned, stared at Chris and began to laugh. Beth answered, “you didn’t do it, Eric did.” Chris was amazed! Years of guilt for nothing.  Shared memories are interesting.

Our family goal was met that summer and we were proud of our accomplishment.  Our cabin still stands today. The mishaps and mayhem of that summer have strengthened the bonds of my family for a life time.

What mishaps have strengthened your family? What's your family goal?

                                                         Everyone has a story to tell . . .

(photo's by Ted Johnson 1974: Pic 1 - Beth, age 7 / Pic 2 - dad and Brian, age 24)
(see prior post, "Bring a rock!" for picture of cabin)
Resources for the curious mind:
Don't want to build a cabin . . . but up for a hike? :
Plan a trip to Nova Scotia:
Need to set a goal:
Wilderness First Aid Kit: