The Wood Run


Gathering timber brings more than scratches and sore muscles; it stacks up friendships and piles of fun.

“I can’t believe people go to work this early,” someone says, watching the lonely headlights of a car appear and then quietly disappear down the streets of the still-sleeping town. It is dark, early-morning dark, in the church parking lot. The coolness of the early hour inspires thoughts of sleep and warm beds rather than the day of work ahead, but work is what everyone has come out to do. After all, this is no ordinary Saturday morning; it is the beginning of the second annual Wood Run.

In the lumberjack country of Oregon or the thick pine forests of Washington, a project to cut and stack timber would raise no eyebrows. But when youth from Kanab, Utah, decide to hold an annual Wood Run, eyebrows are raised. The surrounding countryside poses some problems. The sage-covered flatlands, dry gulleys, and beautiful but barren red bluffs that characterize the small southern Utah community make it easy to wonder how far you would have to travel to find lumber, especially enough to satisfy this eager group.

The Wood Run originated when the Young Women of the Kanab Second Ward said they could stack and haul more wood than the Young Men could. And just one year ago, in the first official Wood Run, they proved it.

This year, as they stand waiting in the church parking lot, the young men say things will be different.

As the last cars pull in and the sun begins to rise, the dark shapes in the parking lot take on identity, and a spirit of competition begins to whisper through the crowd. In the new light the Laurel and Beehive advisers look around and confer.

“Do they have more people than we do?”

“I think so.”

“We’re outnumbered!”

“Well,” concludes Charlene Swapp, Beehive adviser, “there are more boys this year, but we’ll still beat them.”

The girls seem to agree. “Are we going to whop ’em?” asks the Young Women’s president, Jo Anne Goodfellow. “Yeah!” comes the resounding chorus from a group of enthusiastic young women.

The men are not in agreement, however. Loral Linton, teachers quorum adviser, stands by, listening to the boasts with a knowing smile on his face. “We’ll get even this year,” he says smugly.

This attitude seems to prevail among the young men and has resulted in a slight alteration of the event’s original name. Among themselves the event has become known as the Revenge of the Wood Run.

Soon everyone in the parking lot has piled into cars and trucks to head for the Kaibab National Forest to make good their claims of victory.

“That’s where we’re going,” someone says, pointing to a smooth, flat-topped hill of purplish hue that rises in the distance across the border into Arizona. “That’s the Kaibab.”

That’s the Kaibab?”

The words of a lifelong resident, a man who homesteaded his own land out here and really knows the area, come to mind. “Kaibab is Indian for mountain lying down,’” he’d said, looking off in that direction and adjusting his cowboy hat.

Well, the Indians were right.

From this distance the level swell on the horizon hardly resembles the picture that the word mountain conjures up. Where are the jagged cliffs, the snow-capped peaks, the single vertical summit rising up to pierce the clouds?

It’s hard to believe that this level mountain stretches out to form the towering north and south rims of the Grand Canyon. And harder still to believe that it provides enough wood to keep one of the largest sawmills in Utah and Arizona in business.

But as the caravan of cars and trucks works its way closer to the Kaibab, the sage-covered plains give way, almost imperceptibly at first, to hills sprinkled with pine. The caravan climbs higher, and the air becomes cooler. Sparse pine becomes forest. Suddenly you’re a believer.

After bumping over dusty dirt roads, the caravan stops, and everyone climbs out. Instructions are brief. “Women stack on the right side of the road and men on the left. Three chain saws to a team. The winner is whoever stacks and loads the most wood onto the trucks before lunch.” Within minutes chain saws are buzzing, chips of wood and sawdust fly, and the strong scent of freshly cut pine fills the air.

“This is all waste wood that loggers have left piled up,” says Bishop Jack Frost, referring to the large, unkempt piles of wood and brush that are being cut into with a vengeance.

The young women have quickly formed a log-passing brigade, and from what looks like just a pile of brush come the beginnings of what will soon be a healthy-sized stack of clean, much-needed wood. According to Bishop Frost, the cutting and stacking are just the beginning of the project. Once the wood is taken home, it must be split and then delivered throughout the winter to those that need it for fuel.

Last year Mary Jo Morrison and her daughter Jodi received some wood from the project. “Normally, we would have had to buy the wood,” says Mary Jo. “I was very appreciative. It was not just logs, either. The wood was cut, and split, and ready to burn. I work full-time, but this year Jodi is able to go up and help. Those kids work hard.”

“It gives you a good feeling to be doing something for people who can’t go up and chop the wood themselves,” says Jodi, a first-year Beehive.

Although much of this year’s Wood Run still lies ahead, for now everyone seems intent on gathering as much wood as they can. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best service project I’ve ever been on,” says Bishop Frost. “The kids all get a sense of usefulness out of it. They feel like they’ve accomplished something. And they have. It’s hard work to gather this much wood.”

Nobody would argue with him on that point. Across the road and farther up from where the girls are working, the young men are diving into their pile of wood in a less organized but equally effective manner. As soon as the chain saw has rendered a log into chopping size blocks, the blocks are thrown onto a pile and then loaded onto a truck.

Echoing the bishop’s feelings, Chad Goodfellow, teachers quorum president, says that the Wood Run is a better service project than most he’s been on. “There’s a lot done here. This is an activity, but it also does some good for everybody else.” He’s right. By the time the project is over, nearly everyone in the ward will have had the opportunity to take part in helping others.

And their help doesn’t go unappreciated. “I’m a widow, and usually I’ve bought my wood,” says Nedra Baughman, who received some wood last year. She was surprised one day to find a truck and some of the youth from the ward in front of her home. “There they were, two unloading the wood, some splitting it and others stacking it,” she says. “I was overwhelmed. It makes you feel humble and very grateful.”

With this kind of response awaiting their work, the workers find the day goes quickly.

Before long the trucks begin to fill with wood, and lookouts are sent to spy on the opposing team. Extra sweatshirts or jackets are laid aside or tied around waists as the morning’s cool edge melts into afternoon.

The log-passing brigade formed by the young women continues to function but at a slightly slower pace—slow enough, anyway, to allow a good sawdust fight and accommodate plenty of laughter and talking.

“It’s very hard work,” says Shelley Allen, a Mia Maid and veteran worker from the previous year, “but it’s fun when you’re all working together. And when you take the wood to people’s houses, they like it. That’s the neat part.”

Jamie Leavitt, Beehive president, shakes some clinging bits of sawdust from her hair and agrees that delivering the wood to people who need it really does make all the hard work worthwhile.

Of course, hard work or not, none of the young men is so tired that he can resist climbing the sides of the huge diesel truck to scale the mountain of wood it holds and shout claims of victory to those below.

The deadline that seemed years away while the workers were standing sleepily in the cool morning dark at the church parking lot has arrived. It is time to declare a winner.

The noisy crowd gathers. Dusty gloves are dropped to the ground and then joined for a rest by their equally dusty wearers. Examining the cuts and scrapes on her uncovered arms, one young woman suggests that the winners be determined by comparing the number of scratches on the arms of the opposing teams. Seeing the dirt embedded in the young women’s shirts and ground into the knees of their jeans, someone else suggests the winners be judged by the amount of dirt they’ve accumulated. If dirt is the criterion, the young women are certainly the day’s winners!

Although some claim the wood got heavier as the day wore on and some reactions to getting up so early were not always positive, the young people feel good about the work they’ve done.

“This has really been fun,” says Andy Compas, first assistant in the priests quorum. “Last year I got to deliver the wood, but I didn’t get to come out here.” For Andy, as for most of the youth, the real magic of the project is in the delivery of the wood. “Just to see their faces when we took it to them,” he says of the year before. “They couldn’t tell us how much they appreciated it.”

For Dan Allen, who operated a chain saw, the day’s experience is nothing new. He works for a logging company, so the cutting, stacking, and hauling of the wood are all part of a normal day’s work to him. The difference seems to lie in giving up an otherwise free day to help someone else. “It’s a lot more fun to cut and stack wood when you’re doing it as a service for someone else,” he says.

Most of the day’s work is done now, and everyone takes advantage of the free time to relax. Well, almost everyone.

What may prove to be the toughest job of the day is still waiting. It belongs to Bishop Frost, who must judge the work and come up with a winning team. Both sides feel they’ve won.

“I don’t know if you dare judge,” counsels one adviser. But drawing on the wisdom and the example of Solomon, the bishop thinks it over and makes his decision.

In an odd twist guaranteed to satisfy both teams, the bishop declares the young men to be the official winners, but before any cheers can be raised, the bishop gives the young women the honor of having worked the hardest. It seems to work.

Lunch is cleared away, jackets and gloves are retrieved from tree stumps, and everyone gathers for one last picture by the side of the huge diesel truck. The edge of competition so evident earlier that morning in the church parking lot has faded. They are friends.

After all, everyone here knows what the real meaning of the project is. They know it goes beyond the difficulty of rising early, stacking wood, and loading trucks. They know it even goes beyond the momentary thrill of victory. The work may give a sense of accomplishment and the competition may provide some fun, but everyone who participates knows it is the giving that makes it all worthwhile.

[photos] Photography by Lori Stephenson

[photos] Big smiles and hard work go hand in hand as the annual Wood Run gets underway. A spirit of competition hangs in the cool mountain air, but there is plenty of teamwork among the Young Men and the Young Women. It doesn’t take long for the wood to stack up, prompting the question, “Who will win this year?”

[photos] Lunchtime arrives, the last logs are loaded onto full trucks, and the bishop prepares to announce who has gathered the most wood. Everyone hopes to win, but they all agree that the real reward comes from the grateful smiles of those that receive the wood for winter fuel.

[photos] Time to relax. Cutting, stacking, and loading wood isn’t easy work. It takes its toll in tired muscles, scratched arms, and dusty clothes. But it does have its rewards. The Wood Run pays off in strengthened friendships, shared laughter, and the satisfying feeling that something worthwhile has been accomplished.