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The Bay Mare Team

I wrote this for Luther Kibler; tales he told of growing up in the hills of North Carolina. (March 1990)

My Dad had been around for awhile
Carvin’ his livin’ out’a the hills.
Workin’ all day was just his style,
Cuttin’ timber for the local mill.

His sun-baked face and weathered hands
Made me think he was a man of steel.
His heart was deep inside the land,
I wanted to feel what he could feel.

So I’d beg to go with him every day,
And he’d usually consent:
“Boy, pay attention, and stay out’a the way.”
Then he’d look at me and squint.

I knew he meant business, so I did as he said,
Learnin’ all the tricks of his trade,
Watchin’ him work until his hands bled,
While I stood off to the side in the shade.

The bay mare team had been with him for years.
I think they were as smart as he.
Their watchful eyes and attentive ears
Convinced me they knew every tree.

Dad always said, “Keep an eye on the team,
And always do what they do,
While you’re pullin’ the logs down to the stream
‘Cause they know a lot more than you.”

He taught me to measure the trees where they stood,
By standin’ back off a ways.
And how to figure board feet in the wood,
Before it’s ever touched with a blade.

We’d prune off the trunk and haul off the brush,
Makin’ use of every branch.
They’d turn it to pulp or firewood or such,
Or fence poles for out on a ranch.

Then down came the tree – my favorite part
When my Dad would be most proud.
He turned felling timber into an art,
That was just as precise as loud.

As the years went by, I did more and more,
And helped to rig the chain.
I’d work till every muscle I had was sore,
In the sunshine as well as the rain.

We’d chain up the log and hitch up the team,
To pull it on out to the road.
Them bay mares would pull forever it seemed,
And never give up on a load.

One day I was leading the horses on down,
With the log a’draggin’ behind.
The trail made a left, so we came on around,
But the log got caught in a bind.

I was watchin’ the team instead of the tree,
They were pulling with all their might.
They pulled and they pulled, then dropped down to their knees,
As the thirty-foot tree took to flight.

The tree that had caught the log in a bind
Had snapped under all the strain,
Causing the log and the chain to unwind
Like David releasing his sling.

The log swung around right over our heads,
As my Daddy watched from the hill.
For a minute, there, I thought I was dead,
And the woods seemed deathly still.

I’ll never forget the look in his eyes
As he shook his head and grinned.
He never even criticized –
He just went back to workin’ again.

I’ll always be thankful to God for my Dad,
‘Cause his words were faithful and true,
The time they saved my life as a lad:
“Always do what the bay mares do.”