Log Cabin Chronicles

Our local Branch Manager still climbing to the top

man with power saw


Sunday, August 16, 1999

[EDITOR'S NOTE: We had a couple of trees blow down during the wind storm that swept across the border area this summer and one, a spruce, was left leaning against and over our two-storey guest shanty. I was at a loss how to deal with it.

So I called Jim Jory. He showed up early Sunday morning with his Stihl power saw, rope, and assorted paraphenalia. He touched up the cutting teeth on the chain with a round file, strapped on his climbing spikes, and was up the trunk of the spruce tree like a South Seas island coconut lover.

I wrote this column eight years ago when Jim Jory was a younger man. Now, at 74, he is still agile, hard working, and tough as a chunk of iron wood. He took my spruce down in pieces which he neatly dropped to the ground with his rope. Jory is such a craftsman that he didn't even damage Jane's rudbeckias. And then he spotted three more potentially troublesome trees and had them down and bucked up in no time at all.

If you live along the Quebec/Vermont border and have need of a good man with a power saw to deal with your tree problem, you can reach Jim Jory at 819.876.7289. He works hard, he works smart, and he works quickly. And he comes highly recommended.]

Jim JoryYou could say that Jim Jory of Rock Island is a performance artist whose high-altitude act always gets off the ground but invariably ends with a crash.

During the 800 performances he gave last year that ranged from the Eastern Townships to Seattle, Washington, he consorted daily with the dead, the damaged, the diseased, the disarranged, and the disliked and unwanted.

What Jim does is cut down trees. However, he does it with such grace and skill that his craft becomes a work of art, and a marvel to behold. He has felled and pruned trees from Moncton, New Brunswick, to the Pacific coast and has never met a tree he couldn't cut down -- one way or another.

"I worked in Moncton for two years," he says. "There were 2500 dead Elms when I got there, and there were 2500 when I left. They were dying so fast I couldn't keep up. One had a trunk eight feet across. It was so huge I had to hire a boom truck to help take it down."

Still a hard charger at 66, he is a limber, compact man with the rawhide-and-steel body of an outdoorsman two decades younger. He holds his opinions strongly and his tongue is honed as sharply as the chain on his Jonsered power saw.

When you watch Jim's taught, springy walk you know you are watching a confident man. Listen, you don't climb 75 feet up a tree, saw off the top, then rappel rapidly to the ground without being pretty sure about a number things, including who you are and what you're about.

As a boy he worked in the woods with his father -- "I was 14 when I started" -- and climbed trees to raid crows' nests. "They were hard on songbirds," he says. In addition, he and his brother used to hunt crows for the bounty -- five cents for each pair of legs brought in.

"And I used to be a cowboy," he says. "In British Columbia. We had white-faced cattle...Herefords...but it was too iffy...it was always make or break. I also was an amateur pugilist...like my Dad. But my nose was too big...I always led with my nose." Jim laughs about that now.

In 1962 he got religion and became a Jehovah's Witness. Five years later, he and his wife, Pat, and her three sons moved to Quebec, at the time of Expo '67. "We came as missionaries," he says. La belle province, of course, had had a nasty history of persecuting Witnesses, but at that time the Roman Catholic Church was beginning a dialog with the world's other faiths. "I was enthusiastic," Jim says. I still am. It's my life."

The family lived in Cowansville for a couple of years -- until their $30,000 in savings was used up. In 1969 they moved to Rock Island and for a while Jim built fiberglass boats in Derby. "Eventually, I gravitated back to the trees, to the woods," he says. And that's how Jim became what he says he is today -- "branch manager" of the Colonial Tree Service.

There have been a few wounds along the way -- some broken ribs and 30 stitches on his leg once when he let his attention wander -- but he's pretty much in one piece.

Last week I went on a job in Newport with him (Jim has had a coveted "green card" for 20 years and can legally work in the U.S.). His 66-year-old helper was under the weather and he was working alone.

Jim straps on his tree spikes and safety belt, attaches a rope to his chainsaw, hooks on a long, sturdy, no-stretch line, and starts up the 100-foot-high trunk of a dead hemlock. The black branches bristle from the trunk like porcupine quills; the small ones he snaps or pounds off with a tough, calloused hand.

At 40 feet up the trunk he fires up the Jonsered with one pull -- you can hear that it runs sweetly -- leans back into his safety belt, and begins sawing off the large branches. Soon there are dead branches ringing the trunk on the ground. As he climbs higher the chain saw softly putts along in neutral, dangling at the end of the short rope attached to his belt, ready for action.

There is a light breeze and the trunk is much thinner at the 75 foot mark and it sways gently with his weight. Jim makes a shallow notch on the opposite side of the tree --he's going to "jumpcut" it so the top will leap out from the trunk and land on a pile of brush far below. The saw roars, the tree top begins to lean, then topple; gravity takes hold and it's falling faster and now it's almost parallel with the ground, and then the trunk snaps at the notch and it jumps outward and lands with a mighty crash. Jim attaches the long line to the top of the standing trunk and I secure it taughtly to a downed tree across the way. He works his way to the ground and soon the trunk is felled.

Jim's glasses, face, and clothes are covered with fine chips of wood and smears of pitch. He smiles, hitches up his pants, and heads for the next tree, a live, branchy hemlock with a trunk nearly three feet across. He'll have to take it down between two cottages...

It was a fine performance.

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