Newfoundland unexplained -
Last week, I shared a story with you about a phantom woodsman, whose ghostly chopping can be heard in the vicinities of Little River and Steel Mountain, on Newfoundland's west coast. Although the exact circumstances of his demise are lost in the mists of time, he can still be heard in the woods, chopping away.
However, it seems readers of The Telegram are a skeptical lot. Immediately after the newspaper printed the story of the phantom, I got a few e-mails from people who had their own intriguing take on the story, two of which were too good not to share.
One of those notes was from a man named Russ, who currently lives in the Goulds. Russ is now a permanent resident of the province, but back in 1957, he was an airman stationed at Pepperrell Air Force Base, St. John's. The story of the ghostly chopping noises sparked an old memory, which dates back to his days with the Air Force.
"Another airman and myself wanted to go moose hunting," Russ remembers, "and since we had no car that could be trusted to get to the Gander area, we flew Air Canada and, believe it or not, we took our rifles right on the plane with us and held them during the flight!"
When the two arrived at Gander airport, they contacted another airman who picked them up and drove them to the Gander River area.
"We met a (Mi'kmaq) named Harry Johns who was a lumberman during the week and guided hunters on the weekend," says Russ. "We hired Harry for $25 a day and up the Gander we went in his riverboat, he called it. It was too dark to hunt that day, but the next morning the other airman, Barney, went into the woods a short ways and Harry began calling a moose. I had never hunted, seen or heard a moose before and the sounds he made seemed like an old dying cow to me."
It was then that Russ heard something similar to the description of the phantom woodsman.
"Way off in the distance, I heard what sounded like someone chopping wood," he describes. "I could also heard someone walking toward us. Then the chopping noise again.
"Fairly soon, Barney shot, and it dawned on me that the woodsman I had been hearing was a bull grunting and coming in to Harry's call," Russ reveals. "The bull sounded like a freight train coming through the brush and willows toward me. To make the story short, my shot finished him off and we had our bull."
Over the years, Russ thought many times about the sound of that moose. "Your article made me think that maybe your mysterious woodcutter was a love-sick bull moose."
A different Telegram reader, going by the appropriate nickname of Paul Bunyan, has an even more scientific explanation for the phantom's ghostly chopping, claiming it to be a common phenomenon.
"It's heard all the time on cold, frosty nights," the legendary woodsman writes. "The deadwood which lays flat on the forest floor soaks up water during above freezing periods (summers). When it freezes during below freezing periods (winters), it expands, as water does (about 10 per cent by volume), splits the frozen half-rotten deadwood, which then makes that cracking sound.
"This is why it happens on cold nights and no tree seems to have fallen to the ground - because it's already on the ground covered in snow, busily soaking up water for a few years."
Who could argue the fine points of back woods knowledge with the likes of Paul Bunyan? Certainly not me.
In the face of such theories, the ghostly woodsman of the province's west coast has been hard at work for more than 50 years, and has been heard as recently as 1999. That winter, a man went into the woods to help his brother bring back wood he was cutting, and he followed the sound of a ringing axe around in circles. The ghost led him on a merry chase, and if the man hadn't known the country, he would have been lost.
If you venture into the woods near Barachois Brook, you too might hear the distant chop, chop, chop of the phantom woodsman - or a lovelorn moose, or even branches cracking due to expanding ice.
But of all those explanations, aren't ghost stories the most fun to tell?
Dale Jarvis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.