The Mill: A Winter Pastoral

The Mill: A Winter Pastoral (1)

Wednesday, February 3rd, 1971

3 February 1971

MacMillan Bloedel Powell River Pulp and Paper Mill 1971Fred took me on a tour around the mill today. It has the beauty of a great beast. I lost myself in the sensuous energy of its throb and thrust and spin. Afterwards I went to personnel. The lady said the waiting list for jobs is so long she wouldn’t add my name. No one’s been hired in months and layoffs are expected.

G3 Grinder Room Powell River Mill 1971I saw Bob inside. No wonder he always looks so philosophical. He was standing on a platform, lifting heavy chunks of wood from a skid, the chopped refuse of the sawmill, and stuffing them into one of six small steam-spewing mouths that go crunch as they close, surrounded by a hundred men on a hundred other platforms on the floor of a dark drafty hangar, all doing the same thing, their faces looking forlorn and trapped, and yet resigned to playing that subhuman role for eight hours a day in return for eight free hours (at wierdly varying times) and eight more hours of peaceful sleep. Is that a bargain price to pay? Unemployed, with a wife six months pregnant, I envy them.

Pipes and Tanks Powell River Mill 1971

I drive back to the farm alone and search for a small project to lessen my sense of uselessness: building a ladder for a fire escape from the bedroom window. Jan announces dinner as I finish putting the tools away and I sit down without washing hands to a garlicky cheese casserole, yoghurt grown on the mantle and cauliflower salad from a head scavenged out of the dumpster in back of Super-Valu. After dinner we bring out the cash book and check book and savings book. We total our expenses since arriving here and categorize them: Land payments, Food, Insurance, Maintenance, Clothing, Automotive. Minimum $450, maximum $550 per month. With no work our savings and loans run out in six months.


The Mill: A Winter Pastoral (2)

Friday, April 30th, 1971

April 30 1971”waiting for visiting hour at the hospital next to the mill.

Yesterday was Jonah’s birth day. A gray wet windy day like most of them since November. A violent chaotic delivery, mother and baby close to death. At this time of fulfillment I feel only confusion and readiness. I’ve hardly seen and not yet touched my child, yanked with stainless steel tongs from his snug sustaining womb into this world of bright lights, harsh sounds and endless room in which to grow and fight. Dragged out with straining and haste, the noise of command and protest and three shrieks whose echoes still terrify me.

I used to feel this way after visiting my grandmother in the nursing home. Birth, death. Our beginnings and ends, grim and superimposed. She died the day we bought the farm. We moved in and kicked out the squatters. Chris, the previous owner, worked in the mill to make the payments, but a year at it destroyed his family and his mind. That was our opportunity.

Last Easter Sunday.  An epiphany of Spring watching the alder buds burst. Erectile tissue stretching and unfolding to welcome the sun. Interrupted by the explosive sputter of the loggers’ D6 bulldozer in our driveway, leaking oil on the hyacinths.

I returned alone to our empty house from the hospital late yesterday afternoon. The grass was up, rough spots carpeted for the first time, deer browsing in the pasture. Seeds sprouted high in the little pots on the window sill.

The Mill: A Winter Pastoral (3)

Saturday, May 1st, 1971

1 May 1971–Waiting to visit Janet and the baby in the hospital

Amazed by the difficulty of life–simple, common, everyday private life. After the ordeal of birth, which was supposed to be ecstatic, the ordeal of recovery, of starting to nurse, of separation, of uncertainty about the birth defect…the ordeal of being a parent, of financial anxiety stronger than ever…all those loose ends, unasnwered letters, suspended friendships, tasks, challenges, debts, unrecorded expenditures (gas on the way to town: $4.75)

The Mill: A Winter Pastoral (4)

Sunday, June 27th, 1971

27 June 1971

Jonah struggles to turn over and move himself: growth is rebellion against limitation, breaking the shackles of helplessness, violent, explosive, full of rage, strain, frustration.

The Mill: A Winter Pastoral (5)

Monday, November 1st, 1971

first paycheck

logpond grapple


the flume

the flume

The Mill: A Winter Pastoral (6)

Saturday, November 6th, 1971


In a corner of her backyard in L.A.
My mother-in-law waters the young Bougainvilla
She bought to hide the green steel hatch
Of the bomb shelter her son no longer uses
To make out in with Shirley Jingles.

From their underground bower of bliss
They would gaze at a frozen sunset
Framed in a grainy picture window
Sized colour photograph.

Shouldering an ancient pike pole
I walk the flume on day shift
Poke, pry jammed chunks
Freeing the flow of wood to the grinders
Where butchered forests are chomped into gruel
To feed the mighty nine and ten
That roll forth tree-trunk spools of newsprint.

Not now…
The season of apocalypse is over
The sun will not eclipse again
Until this decade ripens.

Just planting and harvest
Just nuts and bolts.

November 6 1971

The Mill: A Winter Pastoral (7)

Thursday, November 18th, 1971

18 November 1971
4-12 shift

I think this is what Plato’s Diotima means: the succeeding generations we procreate are like the recurrent memories of a real experience lost to time. Each generates the future in hopes of recapturing the past. Remembering, we approach, but also recede from what is remembered. We, our parents, and our offspring–lost relatives in search of the absolute.


The Mill: A Winter Pastoral (8)

Tuesday, November 23rd, 1971

23 November 1971, Graveyard Shift

Grinderman’s Bluesgrinderman.jpg

It’s three o’clock in the morning
On a rainy Saturday night
I’m up at this ungodly hour
But I’m not even stoned or tight.
I’m a gruntin’ and a groanin’
Though I know that it just ain’t right
I’m stuck on this fuckin’ grinder
Until the dawnin’ light.

I’ve got those heavy, tombstone, graveyard grinderman’s blues

And when that mornin’ finally comesgrindstone.jpg
I drag-ass home to sleep
My bedroom window’s boarded up
The daylight out to keep.
But in my mind that grinder churns
It never stops or slows
Instead of wood against the stone
I dream I push my nose.

I’ve got those heavy, tombstone, graveyard grinderman’s blues

When I wake up it’s dark again
And I need a piece of tail
But my wife she says, go chop some wood
And empty the garbage pail.
So I do as I’m told, I pick up the axe
And go out in the evenin’ chill
Cause heftin’ and heavin’ those logs for the stove
Is good practise for work at the mill.grinderrroom.jpg

I’ve got those heavy, tombstone, graveyard grinderman’s blues

The Mill: A Winter Pastoral (9)

Tuesday, December 21st, 1971

December 21, 1971 Day Shift


Sap down, morning dark
Rooster sleeps, infant coughs, wife groans
Stove cold, pipes froze, truck stuck
Uncoffied and late to work.

Screen Tender empties sewer samples
“Goundwood down for cleanup
Pollution controls suspended
Today we flush the system out.”

Thousands of gallons of woodpulp and bleach
Zinc hydrosufite, sodium sulfate
Slosh through the flume into the saltchuck
Pablum for fish, heavily spiced.

In the Towncrier photo the Forestry Superintendant
Stands proud on the butt of a thousand year old fir
They’ve finished logging the old growth grove at Goat Lake.
It was one of the last virgin stands near the coast of B.C.

Cruised, felled, limbed, bucked
Skidded, yarded, loaded, trucked
Dumped, boomed, sorted, tugged
Towed, spiked, barked, lugged.
Ripped, slashed, cross-cut.

Pulped, shredded, screened
Bleached, tested, cleaned
Blended, thickened, died
Rolled, pressed, dried
Wound, rewound, finished.

The Times is all that’s left
For breakfast.

When darkness holds dominion here tonight
We’ll find and cut a sapling hemlock tree
To celebrate renewal of the light
And hope for rebirth of the land and sea.

The Mill: A Winter Pastoral (10)

Thursday, January 6th, 1972

January 6 1972, graveyard shift

Husband’s Song

I wish that I could love you
With a boundless energy
I wish that I could move you
Like the storm wind moves the tree.

I know that every morning
You meet the other man
Who takes you on a voyage
To a distant foreign land.

Though I often try to follow
I’ve lost hope for the chance
To slip free from my burden
And join your silent dance.

When you two are departed
And I’m left here behind
I search the mirror for my face
With fear I’ll lose my mind.

I wish that I could love you
With a boundless energy
I wish that I could move you
Like the storm wind moves the tree.