In Brooklin, Maine

The first winter storm of the new year hit us with sheering rain and screaming winds on Sunday, January 10th.  It swooped in over the dark Atlantic Ocean from the southwest, hitting Naskeag Peninsula with repeated haymaker gusts that reached 60 miles an hour, according to some reports.

At about 5:30 p.m. that Sunday -- just as the Green Bay Packers were reversing momentum on the Washington Redskins -- TVs and lights suddenly went dark on the Peninsula and elsewhere along the Down East coast.  The power lines had been compromised, probably by large spruces and balsam firs being blown down. 

In about 15 seconds, our all-house (12 kw) generator kicked in, electrically respirating us so that we could – strangely – watch football in FedEx Stadium from the middle of a storm in Maine, with the sound of a groaning generator as background.   (It should be pointed out that many Mainers, by choice or circumstance, don’t have generators and are usually quite comfortable hunkering down in bad weather within the warmth of a wood stove and the light of kerosene lamps, candles, and/or flashlights.)

Although the football game was a good one, other sounds and sights made for an edgy Sunday night in our tree-bordered, largely-glass house.  From what little we could see, our big spruces and firs were being bowed in the gusts.  What we heard from them was not encouraging:  every now and then, there was a wrenching of twisted wood, like the sound of a celery stalk being ripped aggressively from its heart; following that, there sometimes was a crashing “whump.”    

When Monday dawned, our generator was still groaning, ripped branches were everywhere, and four 60-to-80-foot conifers were down within 50 feet of the house, one across our driveway.  Many other big trees suffered the same fate on our property and on the rest of the Peninsula.  Our house remained under the intensive care of the generator until the wee hours of Tuesday, but the blow-downs got immediate attention. 

This takes us to the “Skidders and Forwarders” part of this story, which is interesting in its own light.  We’ve had “woodscapers” on hand almost every business day for the past three months and likely will have them here at least through January.  We’re in the middle of a woods program overseen by neighbor forester Si Balch and implemented by Dave Ireland’s Woodland Restoration, Inc., out of Seal Cove, Maine.  They’ve been thinning our trees and bushes and creating a few trails. 

On that Monday morning, one of the woodscapers quickly de-limbed the nearby downed trees with one of his chain saws, cut them into 12-and-a-half foot logs for the mill, and hauled them away to join others in one of the log piles around the property. 

We’ve been doing “low-impact tree harvesting,” which requires either the use of horses or special mechanized equipment.  We chose the latter, which can be fascinating if you’re interested in utilitarian devices. 

Many landowners on and near the Maine coast no longer use their woods as a cash crop to be clear-cut twice a century by commercial loggers.  Those clear-cutters use heavy tractors (“skidders”) to drag groups of cabled logs through the woods, turning the forest floor into something that looks like a bombing target until the wild raspberries eventually come to begin the healing process. 

Low-impact harvesting is good for landowners who want to have their cake and eat it too; that is, for those who want to keep a functional forest that will attract wildlife and provide human pleasure, yet also want to remove trees to sell, foster better growth, or merely for aesthetic reasons.  Woodscapers now can use special equipment that can remove individual specimens with minimal harm to other trees and forest floors.   (Of course, many landowners here -- including conservation trusts -- may prefer to just leave their woods alone, allowing trees to live, drop, and rot as Mother Nature deems fit.)



Now to the interesting part:  the three low-impact vehicles that are working our woods, which are remarkable things.   (Coincidentally, all were made by companies headquartered in Quebec, Canada.)  The hardest working vehicle here is a small (2,770-pound) Forcat 2000 skidder made by Berfor, a division of RadTechnologies.  It travels and spins on 10-inch-wide tracks and has only a 2.3-pound-per-square-inch ground impact, which arguably is better than a 1,600-pound draft horse with all its impact concentrated through four legs.  The Forcat can be used as a cable-winching logger that drags trunks through the woods, but we’re not doing that here.



The skidder here usually pulls one of two wheeled “forwarders” (also known as log loaders), which are made by The Anderson Group.  These forwarders contain hydraulic grapples that can swing 360 degrees to pick up logs and brush and drop them into their iron-cradled beds.  The extraordinarily maneuverable smaller forwarder has a load capacity of 10,000 pounds; the larger one has a 32,000-pound capacity.

The skidder and smaller forwarder were enough to handle the blow-downs near our house, although several trips were made that Monday morning.  They continue to do their mighty work each day as we wonder when the second winter storm will arrive.

If you want to see a few more images on these subjects, click on the following link:


Barbara and Dic