The Story of a Woodsman
a documentary by Jerry McNutt
Jason Rutledge has worked in the Appalachian mountains for over 40 years. From the beginning of his career in the woods, he was told he needed to embrace modern technology, rely on heavy machinery and exploit the forest for all its worth. But, fate had different plans for Jason. Through an almost magical coincidence, a rare horse breed came into his life, and he shunned the industrial trappings of his trade and embraced the proven methods of the last thousand years.
Jason’s livelihood is based on the productivity of the Appalachian mountains, one of the most versatile hardwood forests in the world. But, this woodsman is not like most in his trade, Jason uses Suffolk Punch horses, an endangered breed of draft horses, to harvest the bounty of Virginia’s forests. Horses allow Jason a consistent power source that is agile enough to go deep into the woods with no need for roads. Jason and his equine team extract only the trees that are ready for harvest. The goal is to leave the forest healthier than before they arrived. There was a time when Jason’s methods were met with skepticism from the logging industry as well as private landowners, but after years of determination, the woodsman is winning the battle of principles and changing the minds of those who matter. During a public debate, a representative of the industrial logging complex laughed at Jason’s suggestions saying, “Mr. Rutledge, at that pace, you’ll never finish!” Jason replied, “That’s the point… to always have a healthy forest, and to always have sustainable work.”
Jason and his cohorts shatter the Appalachian stereotype. They’re intelligent, funny, confident, artists and musicians who are poetic, not only in their words, but also in how they live their lives. They understand the importance of living in a healthy environment and will fight, as they’ve done in the past, to protect it. We live in a time when resources are being used at a record pace – just for the sake of consumerism. Vital ecosystems are being destroyed for shampoo and cooking oil. Once abundant and rich landscapes are now desolate – due to mining. Clean water is rare. The oceans are polluted, and fish populations are horrifyingly low. Our soil contains poison which will be there for many hundreds of years. Does the way forward mean looking back to proven, sensible methods? The answer may be in a place called Floyd County, Virginia, where, despite the challenges, the people remain Somehow Hopeful.
Movie Review by Lynn R. Miller
The important and insightful ‘Somehow Hopeful’ would at first glance appear to be a documentary film about the remarkable forester and horselogger Jason Rutledge, but a careful viewing, by those in the know as well as the uninitiated, reveals that it is quite a bit more; it is a deep dive into the woodswork and educational culture of modern day Appalachia.
All his life Jason Rutledge has been a stalwart and focused individual, ideally suited to present himself and his beliefs with authority and down-home wisdom. He believes in and loves his life’s work. And even more, he is a vocal champion of the Suffolk Punch draft horse breed. When we ‘see’ him talking about and working with these magnificent horses, the seams are gone. When we hear him referencing the invisible insides of an ailing tree, once again the seams are gone. When he marvels still that the work he understands, believes in and practices results in an ever healthier forest, you can almost feel the trees nodding. And when Jason shares ways with his students of how they might improve their unfolding relationship with the horses, you can see by the set of his shoulders that he’s doing what he must. Jerry McNutt’s wonderful film does its job, allowing us in.
The forests of the world ‘host’ us. There are ways that intelligent and sensitive stewardship of a local forest, where the human element serves as a humble manager rather than a parasite, results in mutual benefit; results in an ever increasing fertility and production of trees and harvestable wood. McNutt’s excellent film shows this to us from the perspective of horse loggers, foresters, and the students while adding intriguing views into the sustainable forestry practices of Berea College’s extensive forest holdings.
This reading community is, for the most part, unified in its belief that we, as farmers, must work to have beneficial relationships with nature. That’s why it’s easy for me to say you will enjoy and learn from every moment of this good feature length film about the love of and respect for nature. – Lynn Miller
How To See This Film
Somehow Hopeful is a brand new release, so at this time the best way to find out where you can see the documentary is to visit the website: www.SomehowHopeful.com
It is currently available for rent on Vimeo.com, where you can also see a preview.