Why Yankee mariners wintered in the woods

You might think the ideal time to work in a forest would be spring or fall, but that’s not how it’s turned out in logging in the great northern forests of New England and New York state. Instead, the time to be out harvesting trees is deep winter. Yup, below zero around here.

I first learned of this when trying to order firewood after an uncommonly warm winter in New Hampshire. Because the ground hadn’t frozen hard enough long enough, the cutters hadn’t been able to access much of the woods with their heavy equipment. The result was a marketplace shortage.

For contrast, mud season can be notorious, so much so that come spring, logging roads are closed to prevent destruction. Much of Maine, in particular, is either standing water, once the ice melts, or boggy, including soft peat bogs. And in late spring and early summer, hoards of nasty black flies swarm about – the defenders of wilderness, as some contrarians contend.


Folklorists examining the songs of Maine have noticed that many of the songs from the old lumberjack camps originated at sea. You know, as shanties and the like. At first, these scholars were puzzled, but then they realized that winter was a treacherous time to be out on the water. Many sailors instead headed for the forests, to work in the camps for the season. Somehow, though, any songs originating in the woods failed to travel the other direction.

Historically, the logs were stacked along streams, awaiting the spring melting and surging high waters that the timber could ride to ride millponds. That, in turn, could be exciting, demanding, and deadly work where mariners would continue.

From there, the sailors went back out on the ocean.

Mechanization has changed much of that, on land and sea, but not the reality of mucky soil.

We’ll see what global warming does to the industry.

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