The winter break gave me time to go back home and spend some quality time in my father’s shop woodworking but as whiskey and beer can only keep you so warm in a cold garage, I had to keep the woodstove fed. This involved cutting and splitting logs from the woodpile early in the day. One of those days when I was cutting up some maple from a tree that came down on our property this summer in a wind storm, I got to thinking about woodsmen events and how I wish I had gotten involved with the sport at some point. At this point I decided someone from the UNB woodsmen team would be great to talk to for my column, so when I got back to Fredericton I met up with Stew Hillhouse at the Cellar to get a beer and talk about cutting wood.
Brooks: Stewart, when were you introduced to forestry as a sport?
Stew: I’m from Toronto originally and I didn’t really know much about the sport but I had seen it on TSN before and I got into the forestry program at UNB so I decided to come out for the team. I was very intimidated because it was a bunch of guys with beards and I was 18, but they were very accepting because it’s a pretty small team. They taught me everything I needed to know because I had never operated a chainsaw before.
Brooks: Tell me more about your first practice or experience with the team
Stew: I definitely showed up in the wrong attire; I was wearing shorts – we’re supposed to wear pants so the wood chips don’t get in our shoes – but they just said okay let’s see what you can do, and that’s really the way we do it. You pick up an axe and if your body seems to move in the right way that makes sense for a certain event then that’s what makes sense for you.
Brooks: What are your practice mornings like?
Stew: We practice every single weekday of the season at 6:30 a.m. and everyone shows up wearing long johns because it’s so cold, but we’re done by eight and we jump into each other’s cars and warm up and then head to class.
Brooks: What’s your specialty?
Stew: Right now I do the underhand chop, which is where you cut a log in half that you’re standing on, and the kettle boil, which is where you start a fire from cedar wood and try to boil water as fast as possible.
Brooks: What do you get out of it?
Stew: Even though it’s a competitive sport and for amateur events I’ve done where you can win money, people will still offer to let you borrow their saw if you need it, and then after everyone’s done you can go and have beers with them. It’s that sense of inclusivity that makes me want to be involved with the sport after I graduate and if there’s ever a 20-year-old that needs a saw I’ll let him use my saw because I was that kid who showed up with no equipment before.
When it comes down to it, we’re just friends who do a sport that not many people know a lot about and might see on TSN by accident like I did, but we have a passion for it.
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