– Haida artist uses carving as means of healing and rehabilitation

Haida artist Jimmy Jones sits quietly in his hotel room, wearing a blue-violet button-up shirt and jeans, sporting a string of blue glass beads and tattooed sleeves of traditional Haida art drawn by his son, Jesse.

“I’m low maintenance,” says Jones of his speedy five-minute interview preparation.

“A comb through my hair and a quick shave and I’m out the door.”

A simplistic nature and calm demeanor speak volumes about a man who once chased danger and pursued adrenaline rushes on a daily basis, working in what is often considered one of the most dangerous industries in the world.

Jones, who spent 20 years falling giant trees in some of British Columbia’s most dense and untouched temperate rainforests on the islands of Haida Gwaii, says his affinity for the job came at an early age.

“I started at 13, when I went out with my dad. He was a contract faller so I went out there with him and ran the power saw,” recalls Jones of his earliest experience as a logger.
“That’s when I got the bug, right then and there.”

At 15, Jones left school and was employed full-time as a faller.

“I think what drew me to it was that it was dangerous. That, and the money was good. You’re at the top of the pay scale, and the adrenaline rushes? You just can’t buy them,” gushes Jones.

Lifting up his sleeves and shirt to reveal countless scars, Jones is quick to show that those adrenaline rushes often came at a price.

One of his first severe injuries came in the winter season during his early years on the job:
“I was working on a big timber, mid-cut, and when I brought the saw back, the wedge came flying out and I cut my side right open,” Jones remembers.

Clutching his side, Jones demonstrates how he had to “hold everything in” while he attempted to walk 500 feet to find help because his coworkers failed to hear his calls.

“We packed out a few guys, no dead guys, but definitely lots of injuries –power saw cuts, broken bones, everything – power saw cuts aren’t nice to see because they don’t really cut, they just rip the flesh right off.

“If this job taught me anything, it’s the life’s pretty fragile; you can be here today and gone tomorrow, just like that.”

In February of 1995, Jones came to realize just how fragile his own life was when a 100-pound limb fell 60 feet from the top of a spruce tree and knocked him out cold.

“I remember fueling the saw, and I don’t even know if I started it or how far I walked, but all of a sudden it was like I got hit by a train.”

Jones says the impact of the limb was so intense that it split his hard hat right in two.

“It split up all my teeth, tore up my back, my knee, broke my ankle, disconnected the optic nerve in my right eye, cut me down to the bone.

“I was bleeding out of my mouth and my head was totally numb – I put my glove to my face, looked at it, and it was full of congealed blood – and then I passed out.”

Jones’ wife, Patricia, recalls the dramatic change that took place in her husband’s health after the accident:

“He went from being a vibrant, healthy 35-year old to someone coping with a brain injury and various bodily injuries that made his return to work impossible.”

After spending time in intensive care, he spent the better part of a year in a rehabilitation centre in Richmond, B.C., where he filled idle time with woodwork and carpentry, which eventually led to an interest in carving.

“I didn’t have much to do, so one day as I was wandering around [the mall] I bought some carving tools and decided to carve a halibut bowl,” explains Jones.

“I sold it right away.”

During that time, Jones’ son, Jesse, the second eldest of Jones’ six children and a passionate and established carver, often took trips to the centre to visit Jones, where he taught his father techniques of the trade.

Learning the skills associated with carving required a special approach.

“Since the brain injury, in order for me to learn something, I have to learn it in steps. When I was learning from [Jesse], he’d just draw it all really quickly, so I asked him to slow down.

“He was really patient with me – ‘This line goes here, then you do this,’ – and then I could learn.”

“Carving was just supposed to be a form of therapy or rehab, to ensure that he kept busy and had a reason not to just sit and get depressed,” affirms Jones’ wife, Patricia.

“It turned out he had a talent for carving and a dedication to learning, so it quickly became much more than just rehabilitation.”

In the months that followed, Jones and his son continued to work together after his return home to Haida Gwaii. While Jesse worked four-month stints at a Westcoast Resorts, a sport fishing lodge in the summer, winter months were spent scheduling and completing various projects together, despite Jones’ ongoing pain in the years following his accident.

“I had no idea how injured he was until one day I saw him get up from being seated. He walked very slowly until he could straighten up,” recalls Kim Goetzinger, Jones’ niece.

“I could see the amount of pain he was in, but he still took part in activities like mending nets, carving, and working on fish and deer.”

Even after months of rehabilitation, Jones says that it took him almost five years before he had “a clear head” because of having to adjust to various medications to help with chronic pain.

“My mid spine has two vertebrae that have grown bone spurs. That, and my short term memory – I don’t have much,” says Jones of the after-effects that he deals with on a daily basis.

Jones was able to work through the physical pain in the years that followed, but nothing prepared him for the emotional pain he was about to experience.

In January of 2011, Jesse was killed in a train accident while on vacation in Thailand.

“For two years, we were just in a fog. All of us were just lost,” recalls Jones, quietly.

After Jesse’s sudden and unexpected death, Jones couldn’t bring himself back to the carving table for six months.

“I just didn’t have it in me.”

Jesse’s death shook not only the Jones family but the entire tightly-knit community in which they lived, as well as Jesse’s family of co-workers at Westcoast Resorts, where he was employed seasonally for 11 years.

“You see other people go through it, but when you go through it yourself. . .” Jones’ voice slowly trails off.

It took time for Jones to return to carving after the tragic loss of his son, but a trip to Jesse’s summer home at Westcoast Resorts was just one of many ways the company helped the Jones family through their grief.

“Westcoast looked after me; they had me out there and I was carving there. It helped me a lot to heal, just being there, because it’s where I feel closest to him.”

Jones describes carving as a means of therapy. Living with constant pain after his accident required some sort of distraction, and the pain caused by Jesse’s loss was no different.

The Jones family has paired with Westcoast Resorts to keep Jesse’s larger-than-life legacy alive by creating a fund in his name, which works to help finance those who need to travel to Vancouver from Haida Gwaii for medical treatments, among other various causes.

“We help people on the island who need to travel for medical treatments. We help emerging artists, and we support the food bank. It’s good that we are able to use his name in helping others,” says Jones.

For now, Jones keeps himself busy by working on a variety of pieces, including a 20-foot totem pole dedicated to the memory of his son.

“Carving is one of those things you can do right up until the day you die. It’s something you can learn more of every day – different figures, different stories that people want – I’ll be learning until I’m gone.

“Now, well yeah, there’s another pain there that I have to deal with, and [carving] does help me, both physically and mentally.

“I’m not doing it to make money.

“I just do it because I love it.”