Editor’s Note: On December 31, 2011, Cameron Cope passed away. Orange County, Vermont, lost a good logger, and former Vermont State Naturalist, Charles Johnson, lost a good friend. Here, Johnson remembers Cope.
Each time I put a new stick of wood in the stove, I think of him, and I pause for just a moment to watch the flames catch hold. I think of him because it is his wood I am burning. It is his flame I am seeing, his warmth I feel drifting quietly, steadily into the room.
Before he had his big black dump truck, he would deliver our firewood in a pickup, a quarter cord at a time, and he and I would have a friendly competition: I would try to stack the quarter cord before he returned with the next load, to save myself extra lugging. Most often I won the race, only because I had the greater incentive and, no doubt, the easier job. But every now and then, he would arrive before I had quite finished, and he would step slowly out of the pickup, give a little victory smile, then wait patiently until I finished stacking, then would pitch out the load where the previous one had been.
I watched him a few times working in the woods, where he seemed so at home. He moved from tree to tree almost like a forest animal, soft-padding, alert, focused. When approaching a job, he always thought first of what was best for the forest, after that the products it could yield sustainably.
He would study the terrain carefully, formulating in his mind what was right to do. (For example, he once asked me about the best time to log a site to protect birds that might be nesting there.) When he felled a tree, it would land exactly where he planned, avoiding other trees nearby, even little ones, and he would de-limb it swiftly with graceful sweeping cuts, then disperse the slash into the landscape where it would not be seen. He would drive his heavy, big-tired equipment softly through the woods, and when he was done you could hardly tell where he had been. Going back to a site years later, you might not think he had ever been there, unless you saw the stumps cut off near the ground. That is exactly what he wanted.
Years ago, before he evolved into a forester and logger, he was a furniture maker of unusual skill and creativity. He made the desk I am writing on right now from black walnut lumber I had stored for 30 years, milled from a tree that had been in the back yard where I grew up. Aware of the sentimental value the wood held for me, he asked me what I had in mind for a desk, but I said I trusted him to design and build it according to his own instincts and vision. So he made this amazing piece, every bit of it from the lumber: all five drawers and dividers, hand-carved handles, curving, tapering legs, inch-thick top as smooth as silk. It does honor to my life, then as now, and to the tree I played under as a boy.
There are so many other things he did well, much better than the rest of us. Preparing incredible food dishes as a trained chef, riding bicycles high and far into the mountains; hunting partridges always to his limit; making perfect stone walls and other structures from giant rocks. I could feel his work-built strength when he shook my hand or wrapped his arms around me in a hug, see it in his muscles filling out his clothes. I admired, even with a touch of envy, his chiseled, dark good looks and soft-spoken, understated manner. I will miss all that, all of him, the man who touched my life with such dignity and beauty.
This evening I have put another chunk of wood in the stove as an offering, or perhaps my way of prayer. Rest in peace, dear Cameron, where you always found peace before, in nature. It is holding you, as it holds all of us, close, accepting, forever.