Wednesday, 1 December 2010

I'm a Timberjack and I'm OK

Yesterday our skyline changed forever. 

The difference between the top picture and the ones beneath is a gap of four days!
And three hours work.... [The middle picture shows a tree falling.]

The wood crowning the hillside opposite the house is basically a plantation of Corsican pines (tall, very dark green) with a fringe of Scots pine (not quite so tall, lighter green with reddish bark), a little clump of Stone pine at one end and an under-storey of scrubby deciduous trees - hornbeam, cherry, oak, ash, etc). It's rich wildlife habitat, providing nest sites for many birds, including buzzard, and shelter for mammals such as fox, rabbit and roe deer. The wood has been hunted very thoroughly every weekend and jour ferié since the season began, including this Sunday when thick wet snow fell all day and all the hunters had to wear fluorescent orange jackets. Today we found out why.

Just before lunch, a tree muncher appeared, labelled 'Timberjack'. This is a big engine with balloon tyres and an arm that simultaneously supports, cuts, and trims a full-sized tree. Along with it came a white van. This being France, the two drivers went off for lunch. After lunch, they returned with a log grabber. This is another big engine with balloon tyres, but this time the arm is fitted with a grab almost as flexible as the tip of an elephant's trunk, and it sits on a very large log-basket indeed. Both the engines set off up the snow-covered field, carving two deep ruts into the winter wheat.

Abbateuse.... with the original skyline behind.

Soon trees were falling. The engines cut down and moved aside a couple of the deciduous trees, making themselves enough space to be able to get through to the real target - the Corsican pines. These began to fall one by one, the first machine trimming them to lengths of two or three metres and gradually disappearing into the wood. Daylight began to appear between the remaining trunks as the dark green puffs of the pinetops tumbled out of the sky. Then the second machine returned to stack the logs by the roadside. The driver used the grab first to lift the timber into neat stacks, separating obvious firewood from half-decent logs and - the longest ones - good timber. Logs whirled around and plonked into place like so many pencils. If a log wasn't quite in place, the driver folded the grab into a fist and tapped the end of it delicately until he was happy with it.

As the afternoon wore on, we spotted another party of cranes heading south. The log grabber returned again and again with more timber. As night fell the drivers simply turned on floodlights and carried on working. Today half the pines have gone - all those to the right of the ditch except the clump of stone pines. The men and their machines departed well before nightfall, job done, leaving a neat stack of logs on the roadside.

Forty years ago this task would have taken a dozen men a week, and undoubtedly a few injuries along the way. Now it takes two men and some technology supplied by the forestry arm of John Deere. The log muncher is an abbateuse and the grabber is a porteur forestier. A second hand abbateuse might set you back 80,000 euros.

There will be more about this method of forestry in a later post on Art en Saule

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