Saturday, November 15, 2008

Field Report

It was a gorgeous day, clear skies and a mild 55 degrees. I could hear helicopters in the distance to the north. Time to try out the new camera and see if I could capture some good, representative shots of the Christmas tree harvest.

I am not certain of the statistics, yet Oregon, in particular our area, has to be one of the largest producers of Christmas trees. Once one gets out of the valley into the foothills, the agriculture moves from grass seed and nurseries to rows upon rows, thousands of acres of little, conical Douglas and Balsam Firs. Many of the trees get shipped south to California and Arizona, and a surprisingly substantial shipment goes to Japan.

Because there are such large expanses of ground covered with these trees, harvesters hike into an area with chainsaws, and after cutting down the trees, pile them into a bundle that is roped up, ready to be picked up by helicopter. The helicopter shuttles small bundles of trees a third of a mile or so back to the wrapping and stacking area. The trees are then transported out in large trucks.

I knew which way to head today as I have driven by the largest tree farms many times in pursuit of other photography projects, the most recent being the burning of the grass fields. Sure enough, I soon saw a helicopter with its cargo. I pulled off the main highway onto a gravel road and up a dirt drive. As I parked, a guy started walking toward me. Not sure how I’d be received with my request to photograph the job, I put on a smile and called out, “Howdy!”

The guy was outfitted in an old tattered Carharrt jacket and ball cap, and tall Muck boots. “How ya doin’?”

“Fine, fine. Would you mind if I took some photos of the harvest if I stay out of your way?”

“Yeah, sure. Just stand over there,” pointing to the far side of the drive. “I thought maybe you were a buyer comin’ to see about getting’ some trees.”

“Nah. How is business this year?” This is the second phase of a rural converstion. One has to spend some time talking about life as a farmer, hands shoved down in one’s pockets while kicking some gravel or chewing on a blade of grass. I love it, as it creates an immediate bond and establishes a level of comfort among strangers.

“Horrible. The market for trees this year is way down.”

“I hear ya. It’s bad for everyone. We’ve been growing vegetables for market and have had to give it up. Just no money in it. Can’t afford to feed livestock either with the price of grain these days.”

“Yep, I don’t know how we’re going to make it.” Pointing to the trees, he concludes, These ain’t vegetables but we’re gonna end up eatin’ ‘em.”

I took my photos and accustomed myself to the new camera. Digital is a completely new experience for me, and unsure of the results, I took a few more shots with my analog Olympus. I said thanks and goodbye and walked back to the car. As I was getting settled, I looked up to see the guy walking toward me, stopping in front of his truck. He made a motion that suggested he was about to take a leak. Indeed, as I came face-to-head with his member. Talk about a comfort level. I busied myself some more, resisting the urge to take one final photo, and drove away without a final wave.

The trees being delivered to the processing site.

The processing of the trees. The trees are fed through the piece of red equipment trunk first, and are compressed and wrapped in a fine plastic mesh, ready to ship.

Note the single tree in the distance in the above two photos. This is where the trees are being cut down. (20 X optical zoom in full effect here.)

On my way back home I passed this field. It is the beginning stage of a vineyard. Wine is becoming a big commodity in Oregon, and a lot of fields that were once grass or Christmas trees and now vineyards.


Memphis MOJO said...

Great pics. Your camera renders good color (the blue sky and the greens) and very nice detail.

Memphis MOJO said...

Oh, and thank you for not taking one last photo.