In Praise of Countrymen - Pas de Pays sans Paysans

A brief essay, an homage, to people of the country. Country People.

A brief essay, an homage, to people of the country. Country People.


Three sixty-five year-old white pines in a north-south row

Power lines to the West of them, Outbuildings to the East;

And to the South, leaning over the house!

So tenderly, gently, due north their tops must go.

But how? Climbing and top-down cherry-picking?

Expensive cherries.

Nope, it had to be with notch and wedge and line.

I could go on in verse but really prose is my thing so here goes - I mean, a cherry picker and crew for a day and you’re looking at thousands, maybe four, even. Lucky thing there are fifth-generation sawyers and woodsmen in these parts who know what they’re doing, figure it out with a door-yard visit and a look-see, mutter $800 in a semi-embarrassed way because it’s higher than the locals get charged but that’s ok, and then show up on the last good day before the snow let’s go where’s your tractor, and it’s flipping work til lunchtime and boy you need a rest. All three pines, plus four maples and a hemlock in the way, laid down neat as a pin with only one extra downer. The last one took ten wedges because it had grown south over the house and had to be felled north so that one took three hours and all three of us hanging from the line set sixty feet up the tree and anchored tautly to the tractor.

And the man scampering around with a chainsaw, a month older than me and I’m old, the artist who aimed and set those trees down so neatly that only one pine trunk broke on landing, and high up past a double crown at that (white pine is as brittle almost as cottonwood) - he has skills and, as important, knowledge, woodlore, that are getting rarer in a world that devalues practical wisdom in favor of scholasticism. When the Mad Max world that whole swaths of Iraq and Syria inhabit are visited on our shores, he’ll be okay when squads of predatory zombies roam the cities. He knows how to farm, how to hunt, how to make lumber, build a house, plus he’s armed and probably not too worried about shooting a few zombies. These are practical people. His grandfather ran his sawmill with water power, rebuilt it twice after fires, the bane of this land of wood heat, and now the grandson operates a motorized mill that still has some parts from the old water-powered mill. Reduce, re-use, recycle is the countryman’s creed - wood heat doesn’t cost you anything but your work - propane takes cash.

It’s easier in the city which is why so many of the young migrate there. Country work is hard and doesn’t pay very well unless you’re operating heavy equipment. So the land depopulates - fewer people than lived here a century ago, only one farm still milking cows in the whole township, everybody else has gone out or gone big. Land that used to support six families barely supports one in a corporatised system run by cartels, devoted to reducing unit labor costs, and effectively driving people off the land with more ruthless efficiency than the Highland Clearances. And no redcoats required - it’s all done with market logic and dirty deals that create legal reality.

So the people who are thriving in the country with their own work are quite extraordinary - it’s hard to begin with, and the system adds a few more bricks to the load. Is it any wonder country people reject the candidate of the system in favor of an outsider?

About David Camp

Citizen Journalist • Member since Jul 12, 2009

David Camp is a cpa (Canada'86, USA'96) and MBA (Schulich'88) who toiled thirty years in the corporate salt mines, counting beans and telling stories to the auditors and whatnot. Now [...]

Comments by Readers

Geoff Middaugh

Dec 07, 2016

When I did study in Bosnia-Hercgovina on forest protection, I found this Forest Prayer on a sign, deep in the forest of Sutjeska National Park.    I was impressed with the respectful, and pragmatic approach to living with the wild.    My Serbo-Croatian is nonexistent, but I trust the transalation.   Nice essay on living with the wild.   

“Ja sam toplina doma.  Ne sijeci me bez razloga.”    I am the heat of the home.  Don’t cut me  without reason.   The Forest Prayer



Elisabeth Britt

Dec 07, 2016

Indeed. The culture of rural living appears to be on the chopping  block. Thanks for sharing your perspective with us.

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