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Poems of Oskar Douglas
The Burl (a woodturners dream)

I had walked through the woods beside the river on many occasions, and although I had never seen it, it was there. Bill, a member of the woodturning club which I started a couple of years ago, told me about it. I went along to the caretaker of the estate and spoke nicely to him of Merry Christmases, as that was the time of the year. Can I take a look for it? I asked hopefully. The answer was “Let’s both look for it,” said old Tom and off we went. It was a bitterly cold crisp day on the 26th December last year (2000), and I drove the two of us along a winding path to the place that Bill had said the big burl was hiding. After only a few minutes we saw it, it stood out from the tree like a sore thumb and it was huge. It went all the way round the base of the long slender tree about 8ft up the trunk. The ground sloped down toward the river quite steeply and as I slid down the slope toward the tree, with my chainsaw in one hand and a bag containing my safety gear in the other, it seemed to grow even bigger. I stood slightly above the base of the tree on a ledge about 2ft wide and my head was level with the top of the burl, which was about 3ft across at its widest point.

The fun was about to begin. I use the expression lightly; frustration would be a better way to describe what was about to happen. I slipped into my chainsaw gear and after checking that I had a sound footing and that the saw chain was tensioned correctly I donned my protective helmet with the mesh visor and fired her up (the chainsaw I mean). I raised the saw and started cutting a wedge from one side, as I was going to fell the top of the tree along the path. I soon had the slice out and started the felling cut from the other side. It was tough going and it took a while to cut into the hard trunk. Elm is not a soft timber by any means and it felt like my arms were on fire with the effort I had to put into the cutting of this big ugly blemish on an other wise straight tree. Dutch Elm Disease had taken its toll on this trees future and the saw was now nearly through at last. Sweat was nearly blinding me, and gently the 30ft tree began to topple. It crashed to the path with a great thump and lay there.” Not bad cutting,” I thought to myself and after a couple of minutes old Tom slid down beside me and offered me some coffee from his Thermos.

Refreshed and eager to get on with cutting the burl, I started up the saw again and took a few minutes to drop the burl to the path beside the tree. For a few seconds, every thing was looking good and then suddenly the path gave way and the tree and the burl rolled down the slope and with a sickening splash toppled into the river at the bottom. Tom and I looked at each other in disbelief and without thinking I slid down the slope after them. I grabbed the branch of an overhanging tree and peered down the 10ft or so to the water and saw to my relief that the burl was jammed behind a large rock while the tree was away down stream. The burl was like an iceberg in the water and it was jammed tightly behind the rock. I climbed back up to Tom and on up to the van and said that I was going home for lunch and would bring my son and his friend back with me.

By the time I returned with the reinforcements, it was quite late and getting cold. I had a rope and my chest waders with me. My son Callum and his friend Chris stayed on the river bank as I slowly slid into the almost freezing water of the river Doon. It was about 5 ft deep at the rock and I had some trouble looping the rope round the middle of the burl and tying it with a slip noose. I hauled the great lump of wood out into deeper water and all of a sudden it took off down stream. Callum and Chris had taken the rope round a trunk and as it tightened it swung round and slowed down. It took a lot of hauling and pushing to get it downstream to a part of the bank, which was only inches above water level where we tied it up and went for Tom.

Soon we had a tractor down at the river side and we tied the rope on and hauled the burl out of the water and along about a quarter of a mile to my van. We rolled it onto the box at the back and used the hydraulics to lift the burl up to the level of the back doors of the van and rolled it well in and tied it down. No way was it getting away now. A bottle of whiskey to Tom for his help and away we went happy as pigs in muck that we had managed to win such a prize. The burl weighed in at 500lbs and was cut up and racked the next day to air dry for a few years.


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