Country Living - The wood chopper

By: Julie Cotton

A tossed blanket gently wafts to the floor like a softly falling autumn leaf. Raindrops pirouette on the tin roof as the thunder plays a background tune. Chink-chink is the sound of glasses full of tepid red wine as bodies intertwine. The glow of a thousand liquid ambers from the wood fire impregnating warmth and happiness into our souls.

Now, if this all sounds rather romantic that’s because it is, which is precisely why I refuse to replace my trusty wooden fire with a heat pump pinned four foot up a wall anytime soon. With wood being my primary source of heating, it is important that I afford it an elevated level of significance in my life. This year, we had several mature pines die, and the scope of works to process them for the firewood was far too daunting for my family to tackle. So, I enlisted the services of Mr Mark Cox, a talented forester, to deal with the situation.
Mark knew from an early age he had an enduring affection for trees and nature. As a young boy, he would spend his spare time wandering through native bush inflating his lungs with her fresh air factory. His inquisitive 12-year-old self saw him sneak his father’s chainsaw, pull its cord with all his might and cut down the tree in their backyard. He was never a child to be content with a newspaper run. School for Mark was only a roadblock that impeded his call to nature. He left at 15, hoping to pursue his dream of working among the forests that made him so happy.

Mark Cox
Mark Cox

Eventually, with the highest industry qualifications and skill under his belt, Mark’s passion saw him become a specialist at “opening up” matured forests, long planted on top of native bush in excruciatingly steep terrain. In these remote environments, Mark flourished, working alone with his deep thoughts, down into deep gullies that had not seen the tread of man for 30 years. An average day would see around 35kg of working kit, including chainsaw, wedges, hammers, leather chaps and water, pinned to Mark’s body. Like selecting the keys on a finely tuned piano, Mark would slowly make his way up through the forest, leaving a skilled path of felled trees in his wake, to the tune of around 500 per day – that’s a machine! Clothing drenched from sweat – no matter the weather – is a byproduct of the astonishing amount of fluids consumed to perform on task. So extreme is the level of fitness required to carry out this scope of work, foresters tested heart rates match those of high-performance athletes.

One day, at the bottom of a steep-planted forest gully, Mother Nature would give Mark a lesson in her wrath and an unwanted career pause. Having felled a mature warped pine with educated cuts, and with chainsaw still running, Mark moved forward, stepping over it. The log, spring-loaded, let loose with all its fury. In that split second, the sheer force and pressure catapulted Mark meters into the air. During the slow-motion summersault, Mark’s chainsaw flew past him. Deflecting the imminent danger of his machine, he pushed out his arm out to avert the threat. Then hurtled to the ground. The deflecting arm took the full impact of the fall and acted as a pivot point for his whole body to rotate on. In shock and badly injured, his fitness level cast him a lifeline. Endorphins kicked in as he attempted to haul himself and the heavy weight of his kit through the dense scrub up the 300-metre steep incline to the top for help. His endurance gave way to pain and exhaustion about 100 meters up, and he radioed in for help. Twelve months of rehabilitation and advice from medical experts would not break Mark’s burning desire to be in the industry he loves – his will was too great.

For now, Mark unwillingly accepts that the role of a professional bushman is giving way to mechanisation, but the hum of his chainsaw through his hands keeps his passion alive, supplying firewood for our community. Mark’s story and that of his colleagues ignites our fires and should hold our respect. Their skill has braced themselves at our front doors, and they will not let the cold in.


Julie Cotton
admin@oceanique.co.nz

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