The gravel road took several sharp turns through what seemed to be endless corn fields before I finally arrived. Hints of color caught my eye as I whizzed past sunlit trees speckled with evidence that the season change was well underway.
I pulled up to the long-awaited clearing situated along the edge of a small forest, immediately noticing the abundance of wood. Some wood was stacked, other wood was scattered throughout the center of the clearing ready to be used.
Much to my excitement, I had arrived at a weekly Penn State Woodsmen team practice. The team, better known as Penn State’s Lumberjack team, is composed of students who compete in collegiate lumberjack competitions all over the nation and Canada.
However, unknown to many, there is the substantial amount of lumberjills competing as part of the Penn State team.
“First you’re kinda like…a girl throwing an axe? But then I thought no – this is awesome,” says two year lumberjill Dakota Godfrey, junior biobehavioral health major. “It’s actually so fun and really stress-relieving, too.”
Competitions include single, double and team events ranging from axe throwing to cross cut and pulp toss events.
One by one, cars continued to pull up to the clearing, each person wearing what could be described as the team practice uniform: jeans and boots. The only prominent sound that could be heard was the echo of chops and saws while each team member worked to perfect their skill.
I continuously watched in awe, wondering how I could have underestimated the science and thought behind each event, while a dog appropriately named Jack continued to run near the tree stump I positioned myself upon.
Each person de-barked the wood they chose to work on, allowing the wood underneath to be more easily seen for the cuts they would soon make.
Students were instructed by each other, past members guiding new members and lending advice on form and technique whenever needed.
“Speed is nothing without accuracy,” a member instructed as another member was attempting the vertical chop. During the vertical chop event, competitors secure their wood to the top of an upright stanchion typically two feet above ground level. The contestant must then chop halfway through the front of the wood positioned upright, then step around the wood and finish chopping through the back side.
Simply measuring and drawing the correct dimensions on the wood for this event took careful planning and thought regarding the most effective chopping angle to split the wood the fastest.
The two hour practice flew by, concluding with my lumberjill debut on the double buck event where two competitors use a six foot long crosscut saw to slice through a log as fast as possible.
I was instructed to stand, feet apart, on the same level as my teammate. I only pulled the saw toward me during my turn to allow my partner, Valley Photographer Skylar Yuen, to accurately pull the saw in her direction. Not only did we need to find the correct placement of the saw, but we needed to maintain the saw in that position as we sawed back and forth.
With the guidance of Penn State’s lumberjacks and jills, the log was successfully sawed through after what seemed like an eternity. It was obvious that I am no expert woodswoman even though if you were to watch any lumberjack or jill during the practice, you would assume the task was simple.
As lumberjack Erik Ring, junior agribusiness management major says, “Fresh air, swinging an axe – what more does a man need?”
It was evident as I peered from my spot on a stump at the faces intent on practicing their technique, that there was not much more anyone needed.
Photos by Skylar Yuen