The Forest Around Us



Bill Moore

Living on the
back forty

....“Oh, it must be romantic to live in a lumber camp” – “You mean to say the lumberjacks don’t cut the tops off the trees before they fall them?” – Or, how does this grab you? – “But how do you stand the isolation?”
....As a person who has lived on the Back Forty – i.e. in a logging camp, a remote area up a coastal inlet, far from the maddening stop and go signals. I have listened to city dwellers in many lands look with awe when told of one’s surroundings. We of the woods are still remembered by our city cousins as a cross between Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” and a bad Warner Bros. Movie about a cute young thing who runs a lumber camp with a nasty foreman who just about dynamites the log jam in the river.
....“Heavenly days McGee” – was it ever like that?! Well no it wasn’t, but at times it seemed like that.
....My logger friends in Quebec and northern Ontario tell me of the old river drives, and of crews living on tented rafts and following the river drive. It was a tough life and they didn’t hand out medals for living through it. Remote living there was not too unlike remote living on the timbered coast of B.C. Coal oil lamps, a shack, long hours of work, and lonesome.
....But those days are in the past and time has moved on. Today towns have grown in many isolated areas and roads link these towns to the outside hum drum world. But thousands of people – men, women and children


still live and toil in this industry in some pretty lonesome places—and put up with a form of living the city cousins never think of.
....The cost of food is a well discussed item these days. And as hard hit as the city dweller is—the cost is another 10 to 15 percent higher for the family living in a remote logging area. And not only the cost but the difficulty of just getting something delivered or getting it deliv-ered in one piece is sometimes a major undertaking.
....Freight routes and carriers are often over poorly maintained roads or on rough seas and damage to goods is too often a foregone conclusion. For the family living in a logging camp in the Queen Charlotte Islands, this can mean sending out to the big stores in Vancouver for a new fridge and having it arrive with the door badly chipped. Sure they’ll tell you when you phone them in the big city to send it back. But the family has to decide whether they’ll do without a fridge for another month or so, or use the chipped one. Small item—maybe—but to logging families in isolated areas it’s an old story, and an oft repeated one.
....Family life on the back forty is not for all people. You must be able to accept certain omissions in let us say a suburban life. The freight truck or freight boat didn’t arrive so there’s no fresh vegetables this week. A slide across a logging road won’t be cleared for several days after the heavy rains so there’s no newspapers.

But, lo! You get a whole weeks supply when the road opens. Oh well, you soon learn that all there is in the papers anyways is disaster, shootings and another hum drum political speech.
....Quite often families have to put up with inadequate power supplies as the logging camp generates its own. This could mean no electric stoves, no electric hot water heaters or other high electrical use items taken for granted in a hydro supplied town or city.
....The back forty can be a very scenic place to live—but just getting to it—or getting out of it can be a major problem at times. The faint hearted sometimes feel the end of the world is coming when they have to travel a tree-lined logging road out to civili-zation on a wild southeaster night. A recent hurricane force wind on the north end of Vancouver Island top-pled house trailers, tore roofs off homes, caused the evacuation of a small town — and created panic feelings in the hearts of many of its residents in small scattered com-munities. Take the story—and it’s true—of a housewife living in a big sixty foot mobile home. The spike top of a nearby hemlock tree broke off in a high wind—and like a rocket from outer space, pierced the roof of their home and zeroed into the toilet bowl—where it quiveringly stood. The dear lady had but a few moments before vacated the throne and one is left to wonder if she would ere return
British Columbia Lumberman, December, 1975

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there again — such is life in the north!
....Television, that new long arm of the media has played a good part in bringing a new amenity to the logging camps. Unfortunately in some cases the number of relay stations and their subsequent vulnerability to storms etc. leaves the back forty viewers with the odd chapter missing in such education features as “Police Baby” or “Too Much Of One Family.” But never-theless the tube has brought the outside world to the inlets and isolation wards of this forest around us. And Hockey Night in Canada never looked better than when it comes in loud and clear to a bunch of loggers in com-munities and camps around the B.C. coast.
....I remember being in the Price Co.’s 500 man camp at Pamouscachiou, several hundred miles north of Quebec City and watching the Montreal Expos play the Dodgers in a Wednesday evening televised game of baseball. There were T.V sets all over the camp and I would say that nearly to a man the whole camp was engrossed in that game. I’m sure life is much more palatable in the evenings in such lonely places as this northern Quebec camp since the advent of T.V.
....One of the annoying things about life on the back forty is getting something fixed. You’ve got a plugged up drain—fix it yourself. Possibly my lady’s dishwasher has gone on the fritz—fix it, oh logger of the house, for the service man is in far off China. Or a sewing machine, or a fridge. Lovely accessories for the rurals, as long as they work. I recall buying a new washing machine of a famous brand that prides itself on its free parts and free labor guarantees. When the salesman heard I lived in the outback he quickly added, “but of course, sir, the free labor can’t be applied to your area.” Again the high price of living, out where the hemlocks grow, instead of in the city where the friendly repair man is at your beck and call—for $20 an hour. Oh well!
....One thing that has been a betterment to living out and beyond is hospital or health care. Where there were only far spaced hospitals a few years ago, now there are many local clinics that a traveling doctor visits on a regular basis. Or there are health nurses that brave the logging roads to check up on local conditions — particularly in the small rural schools in logging areas. While it leaves much to be desired health care has improved on the back forty.
....There was a time when only the odd food or logging equipment sales-man might call at the remote camps. Now with roads improved and better aircraft service one finds salesmen of the strangest variety visiting the men and families of the logging camps.

Who ever saw a piano tuner in years past—but now by gosh there’s a fine chap with a van full of pianos who travels the logging roads of northern Vancouver Island in search of broken down 88’s to fix. Bible sales-men —sure. Suit salesmen—sure. But did you ever see a light bulb salesman? I did, the other day when he called and told me of the virtues of his 60 watt line. Wow—that’s progress in the old bush camp, Mr. Holmes.
....If I make it all sound like a mixture of remoteness, a bit of frustration, expensive, old-movie-ish and some-times frightening—I guess that’s how I think people feel about being on the back forty. But, when you get a nice

summer evening, and the old moon comes up over the roof of the cookhouse midst a few cedars and hemlocks and there’s no neon signs, and no traffic jams, and no new high-rise going up next door to block your view, and no city smog—then ah, dear friends, living in the back forty has its rewards.
....I wonder what the concrete dwellers are doing tonight, logger — just smell that forest around us.

Keep out of the bight,


British Columbia Lumberman, December, 1975