Ashes to sawdust

Sawmill Creek got its name legitimately. Back in 1823, one of Ottawa’s earliest pioneers constructed a sawmill on the south side of the Rideau River where the creek empties. The settlement grew from the timber trade along its other river – the Ottawa – but logging, lumberjacks, and log-drivers built the communities to the south of the Rideau, too.

Sawmill Creek
Sawmill Creek

Gradually land was cleared for farms and the town spread out on either side of the Bytown and Prescott Carriage Road, now busy Bank Street, and in 1985 our small townhouse development was built into a hollow between two cemeteries. Running through it is Sawmill Creek. I like to call our neighbourhood Sawmill Hollow.

Beside the creek is a path that is part of my daily dog walks. All around us the flushed city rushes hasty and harried, but on the path there is a tunnel of trees and brush that fools you into thinking you’re deep in the forest. Downey and Pileated Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Great Blue Herons, Flickers, Crows, the occasional Raven, Red Tail Hawks, coyotes, otters, squirrels, and chipmunks occupy the ribbon of green twined around the creek.

Marked Ash trees
Marked Ash trees

Most of the forest was filled with Ash trees – big mamas. Thick trunked, crusty old beauties with arms interlaced with neighbours on the other side of the creek. Heavy limbed homes for squirrel nests arranged like hanging baskets floating near the canopy top. A few maples and pines were sprinkled between them but the Ash ruled.

Sometime in the last five years the Emerald Ash Borer beetles invaded. Sometime in the last two years they finished killing all the Ash trees along the creek. The woodpeckers flourished. They battered the bark, beaks rapping and knocking holes into dead trunks. Then strong winds downed the formerly indestructible old dowagers and left them lying in the path. Heavy snow snapped branches. Squirrels jumping branch to branch broke their teeter-totters.

O rings
O rings

Last summer city workers arrived and marked the dead trees with x’s and o’s. Then the lumberjacks returned to Sawmill Creek last month, felling every marked tree.  Although I heard the screech of chainsaws, I didn’t register what was happening until the dog and I went for a walk. Our way was barred by yellow tape stretched across all the entrances to the trail and the smell of newly cut wood and the high-pitched whine of saws disrupted the normal city smells of diesel, the normal drone of cars and trucks, the huff and roar of air brakes on Bank Street. Sawdust turned the snow yellow and the canopy was dented by sky and sun. Log piles filled the spaces where trees used to grow.


Spring will fill the space soon. I suspect our resident coyote will move on since there’s not much cover left for her to make a home. The dog and I will keep walking the path watching for the annual return of the Great Blue Heron. I’ll curse the squirrels and hold my sunflower seed filled hand out to the chickadees. Wildflowers will grow.


27 thoughts on “Ashes to sawdust

  1. Cynthia Jobin February 15, 2016 / 3:34 pm

    As always, wonderful writing, beginning with that great title. I remember watching those log drivers with great fascination, when I was a kid growing up here in Maine. And I love that log drivers’ waltz!


    • Susanne February 15, 2016 / 3:38 pm

      Of course! Maine was a big lumber producer, too. In my youth, I watched the logs gathered into booms in the “salt chuck” and then tugged away to sawmills by little boats that looked too small for the job.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Osyth February 15, 2016 / 3:36 pm

    What a beautiful piece of writing. I feel myself in those woods. I ache for the trees and rejoice for the woodpeckers and I crave the spring in Sawdust Hollows as though I live there myself 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne February 15, 2016 / 3:40 pm

      Thank you, Osyth. I didn’t want it to be a lament but it’s hard not to feel sad for the loss of all the big trees. More will grow in eventually and I bet this spring will be a spectacular year for wildflowers but still….

      Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth February 15, 2016 / 4:01 pm

        You probably know I get rather emotional at the loss of trees for whatever reason so I lament with you – the flowers will thrive of course but the trees – like everything else, when they are gone they are gone.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. jbbluesman February 15, 2016 / 4:16 pm

    Nice work Sue I was hoping to learn the song but it should be sung by a woman obviously. Happy belated Valentines Day!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. thecontentedcrafter February 15, 2016 / 4:33 pm

    What a beautiful poignant story – and I so like your positive take on it too.


    • Susanne February 15, 2016 / 4:37 pm

      Thanks, Pauline. The loss of the trees has significantly changed the habitat along the path but in this case it’s not human cause – it’s that damn beetle. The trees had to come down because they were becoming a hazard and probably in the summer would be a forest fire concern too. Nature will take over again and balance will come back but it will look different.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Bruce Goodman February 15, 2016 / 10:02 pm

    I’ve never seen a log driver – but what a skill, rushing here and there from log to log…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lisa @ cheergerm February 16, 2016 / 6:17 am

    I still feel sad for those fallen comrade trees. Beautifully written.


  7. exiledprospero February 17, 2016 / 7:28 am

    Naturally every tree felled by man is an act of sabotage. That’s the rebel in me speaking. Forest management is not part of my vocabulary (even though it’s probably quite necessary). I’m always planting trees, so I find playing Tic-tac-toe with them a little strange. Still, that’s what you get from a tree-hugging sentimentalist. Niece piece of writing, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne February 17, 2016 / 8:40 am

      Tic-tac-toe with trees – I love it. As the trees were dead and increasingly a hazard – fire and falling – for the urbanites all around them I understand the reason for them coming down. At the moment it is quite ugly but soon enough new growth will happen and it will be revived.


  8. spearfruit February 17, 2016 / 1:05 pm

    The story is beautifully written and telling of life that seems to go on despite the loss of tress. More will grow soon somewhere to replace the ones that are loss. Thank your for a wonderful post today. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Andrea Stephenson February 20, 2016 / 9:38 am

    Beautiful Susanne – though I’m sorry for the trees, this piece strikes me as all about the cycles of life and death.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne February 20, 2016 / 8:46 pm

      If the beetle was eating ash trees in a remote forest, we wouldn’t fret over it. It would indeed just be part of the cycle but because it is quite literally in my back yard, it feels sad. But as someone also said in these comments, spring will be very pretty with lots of new growth to admire.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. D. Wallace Peach February 22, 2016 / 2:12 am

    I live in timber country, Susanne, and the trees are clear cut in huge swaths, everything alive destroyed. It’s always a sad sight. I hope the land continues to be full of life for your walks.


    • Susanne February 22, 2016 / 6:40 am

      I’m originally from British Columbia and am familiar with clear-cut logging. When last home on Vancouver Island I observed massive cuts in areas that formerly were off-limits. They were a true blot on the landscape.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Luanne February 27, 2016 / 3:27 pm

    I hate when a tree is killed, but when there is an epidemic it just eats at my heart.


    • Susanne February 28, 2016 / 12:37 pm

      The emerald ash borer has taken down about 25% of the city’s forest. It’s quite shocking to see the bare spaces that have appeared as a result of all the trees having been brought down to avoid them coming down in storms.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Luanne February 28, 2016 / 7:50 pm

        Absolutely heart-breaking.


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