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Columns : In My Sights

My Lucky Day

Sometimes a spate of bad luck can be the best thing that happens to you.

July 01, 2007  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

Death tugs at my ear and says: "Live, I am coming."

—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Often we think that something that happens to us is a matter of bad luck, yet it changes things so much that it becomes good luck! An example is the day I was "killed."

It was my senior summer, and I was driving a tanker in the Coconino National Forest looking for a small fire that one of the towers had picked up following a thunderstorm. It was extremely rugged terrain, and we could find no way to drive to the site of the fire.

Finally, one of our crew hiked in, found the burning tree on the side of a steep canyon, and hiked a trail out to the roadway. When we got to the fire, we found a huge tree shattered by lightning and burning from a point about two-thirds of the way up. The fire could only be extinguished by felling the tree. This would be no easy feat, as it leaned toward the slope making it necessary to chop it down into the uphill side instead of the normally safer way of dropping it on the downhill side.

I grabbed the Model 77 chainsaw and went to work with my buddy John as my spotter holding my beltline and a crew from another tanker standing off to the side to watch for any signs of danger. As I finished the back-cut, the giant tree didn't fall over. Instead, it "sat" on my saw blade. This is considered a very bad moment in the world of forestry and as a loud thunderclap echoed up our canyon I looked up to my spotters to call for wedges.

The thunder drowned out my call for wedges. It also drowned out the screams of my friends yelling, "RUN!" It seems the top third of the giant had burned through and was collapsing right this moment toward the bottom of the tree where I stood trying to cut it down. Thank God for our innate ability to read terrified body language, as I immediately recognized the contorted faces as screams. Adrenaline coursed through me, and I turned to race away.

Unluckily, I stepped out into space, as the hill I was on was so steep that my initial leap carried me about 20 feet face first right into the ground, spraining both my wrists when I used them to break my descent. I turned to find the massive chunk of burning tree only yards away hurtling toward me; there was no escape; I was dead for sure.

Then, the most complete calm came over my conscious mind. I mean deep peace. I can't explain it; I can only tell you it was a complete release of my conscious self. Fortunately, my primitive "lizard brain" wasn't going so quietly.

I literally kicked the tree as it came down on me and that rolled me out from under it. Luckily, my helmet stayed on and my head was on the downhill side because a large limb hit me in the back of the head, burying my face into the thick pine needle cushion under me and knocking me sillier than a three-year-old at a Chuck E. Cheese's.

Everyone who witnessed this thought I had just been crushed to death. But my kick saved me, and the burning embers under me brought me to my senses. I rose from the smoke and stumbled out to the amazement of my cohorts.

I am the first to say that it's terribly bad luck to have a large tree fall on you. But believe me, it's incredibly good luck to have been so close to death and survive. For me, perhaps this was my luckiest day, as it changed my path in life. I went back to college and began to look for a way to live life as an adventure. Three weeks after college graduation I was in the police academy. And, yes, I got my adventure. How lucky can one guy be?

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