Thursday, September 25, 2008
New leaf — Tree cutter carves out different path in life
By Clark Fair
Michael Jones loves trees. He loves to look at them, walk among them and admire the beauty he says he believes is God’s handiwork.
“They’re the neatest plants on the planet, as far as I’m concerned,” he said, his green eyes sparkling beneath the brim of his green cap. “When I walk into a forest of trees, to me, I see rooms — and there’s a room over there — it’s just kind of a hollow under the trees, and the canopy’s over top.”
Those rooms are places he loves to inhabit, he said. He feels most at home among the rooms the trees provide.
“My love for the woods is eternal,” he said. “I’m a tree man all the way.”
Given these statements, it may seem odd to learn that Jones also loves to cut trees down. The son of a lumberjack, and a tree-feller himself by trade for nearly 40 of his 50 years, he believes that felling trees is in his blood.
“I think (the forest) was put here in wisdom,” he said. “I think it was put here to be harvested, just like our gardens, but I think it should be done responsibly. And I think we’re learning that.”
For much of the past 25 years, Jones has been operating his own tree-cutting business called Timber Tree Service. Success has never come easily to him, and he has overcome some tremendous obstacles along the way. His struggles have brought him to both his love for the woods and his potent faith.
Born and raised in Kalispell, Mont., Jones said that his father gave him his first chainsaw as a present for his 9th birthday. “I couldn’t even start it,” he said of the yellow McCulloch CP70.
His father put him right to work cutting lengths of log into firewood, then began taking him to work with him about the time Jones was 10 or 11 years old.
“Summer vacations were spent learning how to fall trees,” he said.
Jones’s father expected his son to help bring in money for a family, also consisting of a second wife and four stepchildren. Jones’s biological mother and his siblings had moved away after his parents divorced when Jones was about 8 years old.
“My father was a very mean man,” Jones said. “He loved to cause pain. He loved to make me bleed. My name was ‘Stupid.’”
When his father would hurt him, Jones said, he was fond of saying, “It’s good for ya, ya little sonofabitch. It’ll make you tough.”
Since he and his stepmother hated each other, Jones said, he spent about two years living in a shed before eventually leaving home, determined he would, in fact, become tough — tougher than his father could ever imagine.
Instead, however, Jones plunged into years of drug and alcohol abuse that nearly cost him his life.
By 1981, he was a mess. Despite a string of tree-felling jobs, he did not stay clean and sober. Although only 23 at the time, he could forge no meaningful relationships, and his health was deteriorating.
“Most people made a wide circle around me because I wore an Injun Joe hat, a 14-inch Bowie knife on my side. I mean, everything about me said, ‘Stay away!’”
One woman, however, refused to be put off.
“She was not intimidated by me one bit, not one bit,” he said, his voice choking, eyes brimming with tears. “She’d come at me with this beautiful smile and eyes that just pierced into my soul.”
Her lack of fear bothered Jones, in his muddled state. After he discovered that she was a member of a “little country church” in Kalispell, he decided to show her who was boss: “I loaded up a rifle — I had a .30-30 rifle — and I loaded up a couple boxes of shells, and I went down there and shot that church completely full of holes.”
He said he expected to go to jail. He’d been there before. Instead, the church got the money together to fly him to a special Los Angeles rehabilitation facility for hard cases.
Sick with gonorrhea, cirrhosis, bleeding ulcers and malnutrition — and addled with chemicals — Jones managed to clean out his system, become healthy and find God.
His faith gave his life needed focus, but his path was still strewn with the stones of adversity.
His first marriage lasted 11 months; the divorce “threw me into a tailspin,” he said. His second marriage he called “the most miserable eight years of my life.” He spent many of those years living in tents on logging sites, and he swore he would never marry again.
Instead, in 1991 he decided to purchase survival gear, get to Alaska somehow and live alone in the wilderness until he died. But even that didn’t go as planned. It took him more than a decade to actually live in Alaska, and in those intervening years he had a heart attack (attributed, he said, to earlier years of cocaine abuse) and got married again.
In Neha Bay, part of the Makah Indian Reservation on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, Jones became involved in the Youth With A Mission church, and at one point attended a pig roast where he met Susan, a member of the Makah tribe. They made an immediate connection. Despite Jones’s mighty resistance, they married in July 1992.
Jones found himself with an instant family — a new wife and her four children.
The new Jones family lived most of the next 10 years in Libby, Mont., where Jones worked as a tree-feller, and said he learned to open up and allow himself to be loved. He also continued to struggle with his health in an occupation consistently rated as one of the three most dangerous jobs in America.
Through it all — the heart problems, a bout of pneumonia, injuries on the job — he has kept his faith.
“God is the Great Physician,” he said. “And I believe that God is big enough to take care of me.”
Since moving to Sterling in 2002, Jones has been operating his business full time, nowadays with his youngest son, Josiah. Timber Tree Service specializes in removing trees that endanger homes or power lines, clearing work for contractors and oil companies, and chainsaw-style landscaping.
“We’ll take your jungle and turn it into a park,” Jones is fond of saying.
“I’ll cut your trees just like I would cut your hair. You want me to dye half of it, tie jingle bells in the other half, I’ll do it for you,” he said.
Despite his prodigious ability to fell trees, limb them and buck them into logs, Jones is beginning to contemplate a new path. Josiah, he said, is showing interest in taking over the business, and Jones himself is becoming interested in a welding career.
As long as he is surrounded by trees, his family and faith, Jones said he has everything he needs.