Cappers Farmer Blogs > A Simpler Life

Heavy Logs

Martin ParmerWhen we visit our 5 acres in Alabama, there’s no mystery about why we are there. We are there to work. We are there to improve the land, and clear the area for our driveway and homesite. We call it “the clearing”, referring to the specific 130 foot by 150 foot area where we intend to build the house, shop, and at least part of the gardens. Here’s the story of how we established where “the clearing” would go.

After we bought the 5 acres, we studied the plat and made note of the dimensions of the 4 sides of the property. Then we walked the entire four sides. Completing this walk was not easy. The land was just overgrown forest land with an overabundance of saw briars. Y'all folks know what these are? They’re a mean briar (I think the common name is “green briar”) that grows prodigiously in parts of the South. And, apparently, are especially well suited to the area of Alabama where our land is located. So, having walked on the property several times by now, we knew to dress for the briars and other dense vegetation we would encounter during our walk. Another strategy we utilized was good old hand snips. When you are ensnared in saw briars, a pair of hand snips can come in mighty handy. I remember my dad one time, just having had an encounter with a saw briar, had blood oozing from the bridge of his nose. He had some unkind words for those briars, but he didn’t cuss (he was a preacher). So, I knew full well what we had to deal with when I saw them on the lot.

We took measurements (rough as they were) to both verify the lengths of the sides of the lot as per the plat, and to establish the approximate center of the lot. We wanted to place the house, shop, and gardens as close to the center of the 5 acres as possible. So, that day we marked the four sides with marking ribbon and I drove the first marking stake in the middle of the lot, approximately 220 feet from each side. At this point, it was a matter of viewing the lay of the property as to north to south proximity, and degree of levelness. Luckily, the perfect clearing was just to the west of the center of the lot. We marked off the clearing then marked off a meandering driveway into the clearing from the road.

Easy, right? No. Several hours of planning and work went into getting just this far. When you get to this part, you stand in the middle of your clearing, except it’s not clear yet. So your next set of decisions call your name. I hadn’t had the property tested for septic system approval yet. By the way, don’t ever buy land without doing this first. I knew better but listened to the owner and believed him. Anyway, we had decided to clear the land ourselves. Yes, that’s right, with our chainsaw, our back and our blood and sweat and tears. Yes, I know we’re crazy but we didn’t want a bulldozer in there ruining the top soil and I didn’t want to waste all those trees. I’d seen those home saw mills and would like to mill as much of the lumber as I could for my outbuildings. I always planned to use dried kilned lumber for the house but for outbuildings, I think rough sawn lumber would do just fine. Then the next thing I knew I had to do was get my septic test done and my system located on the lot (even if it’s not installed, I have county approval for where it will go.) It would be unwise to clear a place for one's house only to discover the only spot the septic system can go is somewhere else on the lot.

Our perk test went well although I was sweating bullets … I had dug several test holes and had not seen very favorable depths. However our soil scientist knew what to do and got it done. WHEW! Now, we could start clearing. Now, if you’ve never started clearing a piece of land dense with trees, it’s very difficult and dangerous. The first trees we cut were in the driveway area and got hung up in other trees. This is a very dangerous situation. The tree may be hung up well enough to withstand gale force winds or it might come down on its own. You don’t want to be under it when it does. I managed to get a few on the ground but realized I need to adjust my strategy. We decided to go after the small stuff (small shrub like trees, bushes, and trees with a diameter of 6 inches or less) first. Just getting all the small stuff took SEVERAL days work (spread over several weekends and a week or two of vacation).

Last weekend, we finished burning the brush piles of the small stuff. Now on to the big trees. I have rigged a winch on my truck to help pull the big trees where I want them as they fall and to make sure they go all the way to the ground. But now, my dilemma is how to handle the heavy logs. I need to skid them to a holding area to get them out of the way while we deal with the stumps. (A neighbor suggested having an excavator come in there and dig them up. Right now, this option is sounding pretty good) So as for dealing with the logs, I don’t own a tractor. The driveway isn’t cleared and graveled yet so getting my truck in there is risky. Should I rent a tractor? Buy a tractor? Just hire a bulldozer? The upcoming weekends that we can get away will tell the tale. I will be handling HEAVY LOGS!

Contact Martin at


Photo by Fotolia/pinbokeoyaji