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New book Brush Cat is a unique look inside the logging industry

Have you used your fair share of wood products today?

If that sounds like a personal question, well, it is. Even if you live in a high-tech steel-and-glass house, if your furniture is made of aluminum, your rug is made of wool, and you sleep on a cotton mat, you will still use your share of wood products today.

Don't believe me? Take a look in your bathroom.

That TP had to come from somewhere. In the new book Brush Cat by Jack McEnany, you'll learn more about that paper, the New England logging industry, and the men who make their livings sawing logs, literally.

In 1984, Jack McEnany rented a cabin in the New Hampshire woods and called a local "wood guy" to order some winter fuel. When the logs turned out to be too long, McEnany bought his first saw and was captivated, hook, chain, and sinker. In the ensuing 20-plus years, McEnany has had other chain saws and cut many a woodpile with them. He also hung out with Brush Cats, men who log independently and without million-dollar equipment.

Without much effort, you can probably give your surroundings a quick glance and spot a dozen products made of wood. We take for granted that we'll always find paper at the store: one study shows that we use an average of 700 pounds of paper products per person, per year. Wood chips run electricity plants. That non-dairy shake you slurped after lunch was partially made of bleached wood flour. To get the wood you consume, a logger signs on for what the U.S. Department of Labor says is a job more dangerous than that of a commercial fisherman or a pilot. And although most loggers are careful and work as safely as possible, McEnany notes a fair number of fists without fingers. Sticks and stones do more than break bones.

Most Brush Cats, not surprisingly, are good stewards of the forest. They're as concerned about the health and sustainability of woodlands as any ecologist. Because their livelihood depends on it, they're careful to note decades-long changes in the forest. They know how things used to be, and they mourn the way things have become. Laws and trusts can save woodlands, but they may not be able to save the Brush Cat way of life.

Although Brush Cat is a good book, I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying the audience for this book is narrow. Still, I liked it. Author Jack McEnany has a knack for storytelling and can make his readers chuckle in one sentence and feel outrage two paragraphs later. This book highlights the romance, hardship, and history of logging, but it's not balsa-wood-light. McEnany weaves in danger (both to man and to tree) and hard data about legalities, conservation, and ecology.

If you're up for a rare look at an essential industry, if you're "going green," or if you're a logger yourself, get a copy of Brush Cat. This may be the most unique book you ever saw.


Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of the Detroit Lakes Newspapers book review column, "The Bookworm Sez."

Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and never goes anywhere without a book.

She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,000 books.