On trimming

The Spar Tree

by Brian Doyle

One time I was in the woods near the ocean in Oregon
When I saw a truly immense stump looming in the sea
Of lesser green. Gray as bone, and shorn of everything,
It was still twice as vast as even the hemlock in ravines
Where they were safe from loggers without helicopters.
That’s your spar tree, a friend told me. He was a logger
When he was young and strong ten thousand years ago,
As he said, mostly with a grin. Your spar, he’s the boss
Of the woods, the strongest of them all, we’d knock his
Head off and set block and tackle on him and run cable
Through him for the whole operation, and then left him
Be. Sometimes guys would want to cut him too, finally,
Heck, there’s a lot of log there, but that wasn’t our way.
There was things done and not done from some respect.
Like a lot of things, the spar tree came to have meaning
Only after people didn’t use it for work anymore, right?
So these people who don’t know what they don’t know,
They say it’s a symbol of muscle and heroism and such,
But that’s silly. For the guys who cut and worked a spar,
He kind of was the woods, you know what I mean here?
And you treated him with respect. The woods could kill
Guys and did so regular, and you wanted to treat it right.
This sounds like touchy feely stuff, but it was damn real
To the men in the woods. The woods was alive. It knew
Full well what was happening and if you worked casual
You got dead quick. This is why when we finished a job
Each guy touched the spar with respect, kind of a thanks,
I guess, for not killing guys, and for giving us the timber.
It was just sort of the thing we did. There was other stuff,
But it would take me another ten thousand years to tell it.


Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine in Oregon, and the author of many books, most recently the novels Chicago and Martin Marten.