Flash Back Fridays
JIM TEACHES ME HOW TO DO A BOG WALK: 1973
A story by David Boulding
After I had been on bog walks with the handsome Harvard graduate, Paul Bragstad, the nebbish New Yorker, Mike Rewald and the famous flower photographer, Ian Forbes, Jim decided I was ready to do bog walks.
One frosty spring day Jim and I went off in the 16 foot aluminum boat loaded with the 070 Stihl saw, the yellow Gilchrist hand logging jack, peaveys, cables, ropes, pry bars and shovels. Some where south of the Lodge we beached and began the laborious process of borrowing large beautiful Douglas fir trees.
Most of the trees were close to the water and adroit falling by Jim would have them in the lake. Once floating, they were mine to tow home with a 25 horse power Johnson Sea Horse. However, sometimes to get them floating required hours of Egyptian slave style efforts.
Here, I was introduced to the B.C. coastal torture device: the Gilchrist hand logging jack. With this jack, I got to play Eratosthenes, the Greek mathematician who said given a lever long enough he could move the world. We rolled logs with the jack and put them in the water. Some logs were over six feet at the butt. Jim showed me how to operate the jack. From then on, he would tell me what to do as he sat there talking.
Often, he would launch into non-stop attacks on my lazy, good-for- nothing father. I heard the B.C. track championship story a hundred times. Father won the 440 yard race and was so far ahead of the others, that he elected to walk the last couple of steps. The lack of effort enraged Jim and he saw in me many of my father’s character flaws. While he liked my mother, Jim believed I needed ‘correction’.
He would hold forth on issues of the day, politics, who was sleeping with whom on the property, and how my romance with Heidi was wrong. He had not been pleased when Heidi left her husband. Her ex, the architect, was one of Jim’s best friends. Not infrequently he would engage in soliloquies. Often he wanted to mull over a decision he had to make and he talked to himself aloud. My job was to grunt or say “yes” every so often and follow his instructions on where to put the jack. I was not involved in the conversation. These moments in the woods were like periods of convalescence for a soldier, away from the wars with logging companies, school boards and heartless Ministers in Victoria. In the woods, hand logging, Jim was calm.
Moving a log often took hours. We had to lay smaller roller logs in front, perpendicular to the bigger log, like small ramps. He had all manner of tricks to water the wood. With no warning, after I had exhausted myself trying to move a big fir, Jim said, “Give me your bog talk.” “No…go stand over there,” indicating about 30 feet away, “and start talking.”
I stood by a log and began. Four words in Jim bellowed, “I can’t hear you…”
So I began again… “Don’t yell at me,” he said. Jim was concerned with the quality of my voice and what message the tone carried. He advocated a strong positive posture. Slouching was a sin. “Stand up tall.” He wanted me to have my shoulders back and my eyes looking directly at him, the audience. He was trying to get me to be aware of my diaphragm and breathing while I spoke. He said, “If you want to be heard, speak up. No need to yell.”
His philosophy was clear: if you want to command attention, demand attention. Everyone has stories about Jim merely walking into a room and the room becoming silent. This commanding attention habit of Jim’s was best demonstrated in the Sayward Hall in 1973. The logging company wanted to log the Sitika Schoen Lake area. Others like Jim wanted it as the park it is now. Sayward folks were told by MacMillan and Bloedel (M & B) that unless they got the valley to log, jobs in Sayward would be lost. There was a public meeting in Sayward to air these issues. Jim was the lone speaker against the logging. He brought his entire family with him. He did not speak right away. After some time, when there was a lull, he stood up, completely up and began to speak. He was not yelling. He was not loud. His posture and voice said listen to me.
The meeting did not go well. The loggers and their wives started attacking Jim instead of the slick little men in suits from M & B. Jim spoke as a fishing guide and talked about the lies M & B were telling. He described what made the area special. No one in Sayward that night agreed with Jim. Now many from Sayward fish and visit the lake because it is special and it was saved from the M & B saws. He was a lone voice. The Sayward people thought they would lose their jobs and then their houses. The lesson for me, the lesson he was trying to teach me, while stealing logs from the multinational logging corporation was: if you want to be heard, the content of what you want to say is not as important as your rhetorical stance. This is sophisticated stuff. Jim spoke with his whole fullback body. Each word was accompanied with a physical gesture. His gestures were not large flagrant flapping of his arms. He was subtle and moved around to look each person in the eye. “Like a moving target in a rifle range,” was how he described how he felt that night. We left in a hurry, as tempers got hot and things looked like they were going to get ugly. We were followed out the door of the hall to the truck.
Again, Jim did not run out as if being chased, as he certainly was. He moved promptly. “Pick your battles,” was another favorite saying Jim often repeated. I think this one was from his UBC football coach. Jim was a great one for using others ideas and words effectively. His famous phrase, ‘generosity of spirit’ was from George Clutesi, the Native Elder from Clayoquot, one of Jim’s dear friends. When he was instructing me how to do a bog walk, he was not interested in my content. He believed that Bragstad, Rewald, and Forbes could handle that part. He wanted me to have the kids taste things, to listen, to feel the breeze and to take the time to look carefully and closely at the sundews. The point was to notice small things, small changes. When you notice small things, you have better information. If you have good information, you make better decisions.
He wanted the kids to have a physical experience in the woods. This physicality is apparent in his insistence that kids learn about pitch sticks. He made sure kids tasted the pitch stick, smelt the burning pitch, heard the popping and crackling as it burnt, saw the black smoke and felt the waxy surface of the pitch wood. He would walk through the woods pointing out pitch stumps and then have the kids find them on their own, get a piece and keep it in their pockets in case of emergency. He had learned about pitch sticks from Roderick Haig-Brown.
Sometimes, when I was taking a break from slinging and pumping on the Gilchrist jack, he would stand beside me and manhandle my body like I was some recalcitrant stack of clay: pulling back on my shoulders, yanking my head while pushing on the small of my back. “Stand tall; don’t catch the tall man’s disease.” That affliction, ‘tall man’s disease’, was a collection of character deficits that began with stooping, slouching, bending as you walked and ended with whispering, and not being conscious of where your feet were placed.
He would often say feet were the most important body part while using a chain saw. The Stihl 070 with the 48-inch bar was a true sword of Conan the Barbarian. Jim meant that if I was not anchored with a secure base and was stable on my feet, I could slip and run the saw through my leg. To drive this point home, he would sometimes throw small sticks at me while I was bucking some log, or reach over and whack the side of my head. I learned to have stable feet placement when using a saw, and have never had a chainsaw accident.
He thought my voice should carry in such a way as to indicate I was in charge of the bog walk. So I practiced. He would check without warning, “Give me your bog talk!” was for a couple of weeks, a constant theme.
He talked about presence as if it was a necessary skill and something that most men did not have. Jim said women have it naturally and he frequently mentioned Marcy Wolter who he described as the best leader ever. It is no surprise that for 30 years, Marcy has been a physical therapist/healer on Quadra Island.
She has presence. To develop my presence, Jim would listen to my bog talk and say nothing for sometimes 10-15 minutes. Doubts would creep in as the silence lengthened. I had to learn to believe in myself. People like Bragstad and Rewald had presence and each was as different as chalk and cheese. Presence, I learned, was who you were when you communicated with authority to others. So when Jim was in Sayward or on the phone to Ministers in Victoria, all agreed he had presence. He knew who he was and used his sense of himself with authority.