A Week in the Balsam Fir Forest Part 2

Balsam Harvest Diary, part II

My good friend, Raymond LaVoie, joined me for a memorable and exciting time at this year’s Balsam Fir Harvest at the St. Maries, Idaho, farm. He was kind enough to let me share a portion of his journal regarding his experiences. I hope you enjoy reading about his unique experiences.

Essentially Yours,

Gary Young

Raymond’s Diary Entries:

07 Jan 10 – Thursday – The day started out with us leaving Bonners Ferry about 6:15 a.m. The temperature was about seven above. Gary had come back from St. Maries late the night before and brought two ladies who had been working in the distillery. They helped us that morning and went back to St. Maries with Gary after the trailers were loaded, about 11:30 a.m. The empty trailers arrived about 1:30 and were loaded and sent on their way.

08 Jan 10 – Friday – The day went much like the day before. Gary was with us in the morning and went to St. Maries again when the trailers were loaded. That evening, I went along in the truck to St. Maries so I could experience working in the distillery.

09 Jan 10 – Saturday – I started the day a little late, around 7:00 a.m., and paused for a break around 8:00 a.m.

The distillery was interesting; the chips are loaded into huge cookers and cooked for over two hours. The process draws the oil out of the chips with steam, which is fed into an apparatus (the condenser) that cools the steam and then into the separator where the oil is siphoned off as it floats to the top of the cool water. The cookers are filled with a tractor loader, and the cooked chips are removed like a “plug” as they are hydraulically lifted and moved to be dumped into a dump truck. The catch is that often some or a lot of the “plug” or straw crumbles away during the moving process from the cooker to the dump truck creating a lot of work in scooping and cleaning up the mess. After supper, Gary shared stories and talked about his Frankincense Trail experiences.

10 Jan 10 – Sunday – We left the farm at 8:30 a.m. for Spokane and the airport. My flights went on schedule and I arrived in Minneapolis at 8:20 p.m. I arrived home about 11:00 p.m.

My Participation

During the time I was at the logging camp, I helped with moving the trees and branches to the chipper. This involved picking up smaller branches and twigs that had broken off of the trees. Most days I drove the skid loader to move the trees to a point where the extractor machine operator could feed them into the chipper. Thursday morning I worked on cleaning up branches and parts of branches. That afternoon, my colleague, Dave, asked me to go back on the skid loader, which I again operated the next day.

At the distillery, I operated a tractor loader, mainly to clean up cooked chips and the area where the dump truck was parked; drove the dump truck to dump loads of chips; and helped clean around the cookers with broom and shovel.

The real excitement at the distillery is, as Gary pointed out, that of watching the oil collect. All in all, I appreciated my time at the logging camp more because of the beauty of sharing a precious time with others in the midst of a forest. During Gary’s second conference call, Dave talked about the experience of being at the logging camp as the next best thing to heaven. This is my sentiment, exactly.


I have to say that I was richly blessed having had the opportunity to work with the Balsam Fir Harvest. Scripture reminds us that a day in the house of the Lord is better than being anywhere else. The sharing of food, drink, and work in God’s beautiful nature—in this case a balsam forest—was nothing short of being in the house of the Lord on this side of heaven.

The work of harvesting the balsam fir is a work of love. The harvest is important because it starts with people who realize what a multitude of blessings God gave us in nature, specifically trees and plant life. For one thing, it is being done for a worthy purpose—that of providing a wonderful healing oil for the benefit of all.

There are many blessings in working the harvest. I have alluded to the communion experienced by each of us as we shared together in work, conversation, prayer, and food. Most of us were not related by blood; however, we truly shared in the experience of being a family at the logging camp and at the distillery. May each of us cherish our experience in our hearts as we continue our life’s journey.

—Raymond LaVoie

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