I’VE been concerned since last month that some misunderstanding may have occurred with my description of events concerning the incident with the saw-logs. In between writing the draft copy and typing it up, a couple of inaccuracies crept in regarding my attempt to crush one of my legs. I shall attempt to rectify the situation...

The incident came about as a result of a big seven-metre sawlog sliding sideways out of a pile. It had been sitting on top of another freshly felled, very slippery log. The pile of sawlogs immediately rolled into the gap, dragging my leg in with them. Thankfully, the log which slipped out of the heap fell after reaching the point of equilibrium and, as it did so, the smallest end lifted into the air, opening up a gap in the pile and releasing my leg, which had by then become trapped and squashed in the middle. This whole incident occurred in about two seconds and I was completely powerless to do anything about it. Fortunately I wasn’t trapped, as the thought of having to free myself with the chainsaw doesn’t bear thinking about!

I’m also thankful that my leg was nipped at the same point on both sides of the leg, thus preventing a break. There’s no doubt in my mind that I was very lucky, but I’ve still had to recover from a very painful and nasty injury. The bone had been crushed and the muscles were reduced to lumps, probably as a result of the logs turning as they pulled my leg in. For three weeks my leg seemed to be on fire. On several occasions I got up during the night to immerse the leg in a bucket of water just for a little light relief. There’s no question life has been tough and all at a time when demand has been crazy and the orders continue to flood in – injury or no injury.

With demand at an all-time high and the mill turning a good profit, it’s all been about ‘head down, crack on and try not to make too many mistakes’. You just never know what’s around the corner in this industry as my previous comments prove, so we’ve got to make hay while the sun shines. On the subject of mistakes, I have to admit that recently I’ve made a few. While I’m nowhere near perfect it’s still unlike me, as I’m usually well focused on the task in hand and generally switched on.

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Dealing with the end of a 30-year relationship, trying to recuperate from a fairly serious injury and living at the sawmill would test the mettle of most people. A good night’s sleep is essential for allowing the body and mind to mend, but here I’ve had a particular problem with owls. It’s not unusual to get the occasional owl hooting in a tree, but the sawmill seems to be acting as owl central. So many of them!

After dark, about 20 seem to congregate on the sawmill roof. I’m not sure whether the mill is some kind of training camp where the wise old owls teach all the fledglings the tricks of the trade (like how to strip a live rabbit from the bone). It’s like living in a horror movie as the hapless bunny screams for its life and is slowly reorganised into julienne strips, followed shortly afterwards by the rattle of the stripped carcass as it slides slowly down the roof and into the blackness below. I suppose we’re all used to seeing rabbits running around in the fields with the occasional one victim to a hawk or a speeding car. What we may not be familiar with is what goes on after dark.

Forestry Journal: Not a pretty sight.Not a pretty sight.

With sleep deprivation and the advance of autumn with the nights getting longer and the weather colder, there has been a growing urgency for somewhere better to reside. Renting a cottage would seem to be the obvious solution, but I’d never be there. At this time of the year you need to keep it warm and aired to avoid the place getting damp. As a temporary solution, I’ve decided to put a portable office in a corner of the yard. With the mill generator running all day I can leave the heater switched on and with windows all around it also heats up quickly from the sun, providing a warm and cosy refuge after work. It should also provide security for the yard with me there and hopefully keep the burglars out. Besides, I’m sure the owls will let me know if any trespassers appear. Anyway, for the time being I’m the resident security guard.

With somewhere cosy to sleep and with the leg well on the mend, I’m really hoping this winter that I can get some engineering work done in the mill. I have an electrician booked to sort out the lighting. The old strip lights and sodium outside lights are being replaced with LEDs. We did some of the work last year and the results were outstanding, but I’m keen to see the work completed. The order books are full for the next few months and so making the mill nice and light will make a huge difference.

Most years around this time we start scheduling for the production of firewood, something I think I’ve managed to sidestep this year. Compared to milling timber it’s not particularly cost effective. I’ve never really understood why we do it other than the locals for some strange reason expect their nearest sawmill to provide logs in winter. The economics of cutting firewood – which retails at roughly £50 to £60 per bag – don’t add up once delivery costs are included. Unless you have a lot of customers who live in the immediate vicinity and you can deliver in bulk, then any profit is wiped out. Those people who do turn a profit are usually delivering in the evening and not using up valuable work time during the day.

What we tend to cut are old hedgerow trees which have come down and owners are usually keen just to get rid of them. I’m usually hanging off the end of a Husqvarna 395, chewing up big old gnarly trees. The other problem with firewood is that it’s always hard work regardless of what you do and getting someone else to do it is just as difficult. So, for these reasons I was toying with the idea of stopping altogether when someone offered to do it for me for a fixed cost per bag. A perfect solution! They don’t need to worry about buying or selling and I don’t have to worry about the economics as I’m paying them on production which fixes my costs and releases me to worry about keeping the mill rolling. Whoops! I was nearly tempted into saying “happy times” but that might just be tempting fate. Maybe I should consult the owls...

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