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Excerpt: The Sacremental Dance of the Two Old Loggers

by JOHN SHREIBER For Jack Fraser - wherever he may be

ON AN OVERTIME SATURDAY MORNING with the air gentle from an early autumn rain, two old loggers saw each other across the length of the landing. They had not seen each other for a long time and there were reconnections to make and news to share. The crews had begun their coffee and smokes, but the two old loggers, with no obvious advance gestures of intention, turned instead and began the slow, shambling walk, caulks crunching, to the centre of the landing where the newly moved yarder and the just-raised spar tree stood. The Finn, short, stocky, solid, reached the centre point first and, thumbs hooked under his Police suspenders, waited in the shadow of the spar. The other man, older, stiffer, body shrunken inside his shapeless denim work pants, joined him and in tandem now, the two carefully eased reluctant leg joints into squatting positions on the fresh gravel and sharp-edged yellow cedar chips. Each man, one knee lower, elbows firmly planted, hands dangling, faces the other. Above, the spar tree towers, dark against the sky.

The one logger, having stuck his work gloves in rear pocket, clears with thumb the morning's snoosewad from his lip and few lower teeth, turning aside to spit out the last black remnants. The other, the Finn, clears his throat in commiseration and reaches under his grey Stanfields top into the breast pocket of his shirt for his sack of makings. He begins the deft business of extracting the flimsy paper from its orange package and placing it on his palm with one hand, and reaching in, laying out, and arranging the thick pinch of Player's Fine Cut with the fingers of the other. Passing the makings to the waiting older man, he rolls the works of his own with fingers of both hands into the perfect cylinder and finishes off with a concluding swipe of the tongue to seal his effort.

While the second old logger repeats the exercise with the same thick-fingered dexterity and sequence, the first, the Finn, sticks his handiwork into one corner of his lips and again reaches under his Stanfields, feeling the other breast pocket for matches. Producing one from a crushed box, he strikes it with sudden violence on the fly zipper of his work jeans, then
swiftly moves the burst of sulphurous flame to the patient cigarette-end of his partner. The old man curls his hands over the cupped hands of the Finn against a possible breeze, sucks in the first igniting inhalation, then adjusts his hands slightly to help the other culminate his part of the ritual.

For a second there is no motion between the two old loggers hunkered on the gravel but for pulled flame in folded hands. Task accomplished, the Finn, with a twitch of the fingers, flicks his match through damp air in an arc of fine blue smoke to the ground. Both men pause, then pull a, long hard drag and hold it briefly while chips, gravel, yarder and spar tree shift abruptly to one side, stop and hold, for one bright, suspended, ineffable moment, then return in equilibrium. The two old loggers exhale gratefully, slowly, squinty-eyed in clouds of smoke.

The one, passing his glance, so as to meet, briefly, his partner's eyes, and following through to rest his gaze on a point somewhere beyond the other's shoulder, begins a second slow drag. Head shrouded in fresh white smoke, eyes slitted, the partner returns the look, longer this time, drawing the pupils back to him.

"Yessir," he says. ,

The first logger, eyes now cast on the ground, nods.

The two men squatting at the foot of the spar tree finish their smokes in silence.

A breeze, having stayed itself in seeming patience, now stirs, and the passline, a light strawline, flaps absently a little, rhythmic against the massive trunk of the spar. At the top of the tree, one hundred feet above the ground, above the newly hung and strung bull block and haulback block, guylines reach, taut as knife edges, out to the four directions.

One of the resting crews, looking up and seeing the two oldtimers under the spar tree says, "Look at them two old fuckers! Would you believe, back in the thirties, they were two of the fastest high riggers on the en-tire coast?"

The others, jaws slowly working, shake their heads in doubt, wondering at the sheer inconceivability of the idea. Dragging busily on their tailor-mades, they resume, like crows, their coffee-break chatter.