Friday, April 3, 2009

Hannah Fox

Have you ever heard of her? Hannah Fox lived back when women were strong in more than one way. Her harrowing tale begins while she was helping her brother clear cut timber from their mother's property to build a better log cabin back in colonial Rhode Island.

I know they were strong women, I know they were pretty independent to survive in the wild wilderness that America was before settlers arrived in hordes. Many of the gutsy women who carve their own way in our world with many avenues to assist them are strong but in different ways. Hannah's world was dangerous.

One winter day as her brother needed to head to the nearest town before the next blizzard and a winter already begun, Hannah stayed behind to finish felling trees in an area they had yet to clear.

Let me back up, have you ever heard of a loggers' term called a 'widow maker'? That's when a tree gets hung up in another tree in a dangerous angle. When the logger tries to free the tree, the trunk sometimes shifts and hits the wary woodsman many times killing him. Hannah didn't have a widow maker - at least she was reasonably sure that the tree she felled was hung up in another tree's branches could be easily extricated.

She climbed the ten feet up into the tree to cut the wayward branch with her axe - as luck would have it the whole tree shifted. She rolled off the tree trunk and the gash she had made in the branch closed on her hand pinning her left fingers in it's crushing grip. She tried and failed to retrieve the axe. Her feet dangling inches from the ground, held by the fingers wedged in the crotch of the branch where she tried to cut lose the tree she had climbed. She resigned herself to freezing to death in the dark winter night. Her brother would think she was safe at home, her mother would think she was safe with her brother. Hannah prayed.

After she had fallen asleep she heard distant bells that woke her. She screamed for help with all the breath she had left in her to no avail. The bells, whatever they were, whoever was ringing them vanished as they had come suddenly. She decided it was foolish to hang there until death caught up with her. She retrieved a jack knife from her apron pocket and proceeded to cut her fingers off at the knuckles where they had lodged in the branch.

Once on the ground she wrapped her hand in a strip of her skirt and headed the mile back home.

I've seen the results of the widow maker in one of our young neighbors - half his face is now steel plate and he spent many weeks in recovery after days in and out of a coma. He was lucky to survive. Was he any braver than Hannah? He survived, she survived. Would I have had the courage to do what she did? I just don't know. But, it gives me pause for thought. How about you?

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