Friday, September 12, 2014

Wood Work

A brief, but wild, storm tore two large branches from the main trunk of an old red maple in our front yard last weekend. The dismantled maple is one of three in a row along one border of our yard, offering shade in summer, beautiful color in fall, and a host of perches for the birds that flit through the fields year round. The tree is lopsided now, leaning away from the woods and toward the mountains, and since it’s in the middle of the group, that whole edge of the yard seems out of balance.

Regardless, the downed tree left us with a job to do, and Sunday morning was devoted to cutting, splitting, and hauling the wreckage away. While my husband used the chainsaw to cut log lengths from the large limbs, the kids and I filled the garden cart and lugged heavy loads of logs to the firewood pile.

It was a good day to be outside working: one of those perfect late-summer days that starts out crisp and warms to just right, puffy white clouds dotting a cerulean sky. As we worked, the neighborhood hawks screeched overhead wheeling on the breeze, and grasshoppers leapt out of our way at nearly every step. The kids grew bored soon enough and wandered off to play, but I reveled in a short morning of manual labor in the sunshine.

Funny how things change over time. When I was girl, about the same age my oldest children are now, I would disappear up the road to a friend’s house at the first sign that firewood work was coming. I dreaded the long hours of splitting and moving wood, the droning of the diesel-powered wood splitter, chucking the split logs down the plywood chute to the basement, stacking them into long rows there to await the persistent cold of winter, when the work would be mostly forgotten and we’d welcome the warmth provided by the wood.

We don’t heat primarily with wood now (although every time I get an oil bill, I wonder if we should), so have no need to stack cords of wood each year, which is probably why I enjoy small doses of firewood work. On Sunday, as my husband revved up the tractor to drag the remaining scraggly branch ends to the burn pile in the back field, I eagerly hauled the splitting maul and wedges out of the garage and set to work hacking the thickest logs into smaller pieces to burn in the fireplace some fall or winter day, when the morning chill lingers for months rather than hours.

There’s something satisfying in the thwack of the maul as it finds its solid target, the crackle of wood as a log starts to split, the agreeably aching muscles that come with working outside. I thought I’d get through a few logs and leave the rest for another day, but the splitting was a nice combination of work, exercise, and rumination. Heft, swing, slice. Thud, crackle, split. There were only a dozen or so logs to split, and once I found the rhythm, I wanted to finish the job.

In the ten years that we’ve lived in this house our woodpile has maintained a relatively healthy level, replenished occasionally with birch logs and apple wood from trees that have fallen in our fields and along wooded edges. Sunday we added maple to one end of the wood pile. The firewood we split and stack as it becomes available is used, eventually, in our fireplace.

It’s a good fireplace and throws a lot of heat into our living room, rather than sucking the warmth out of the house and up the chimney as some fireplaces do. On long winter days, when we’ve been outside in the biting cold, there’s little more welcoming than coming in to a blaze in the fireplace, gathering in its warm glow, where fingers and toes thaw and snow-wet mittens and hats are spread on the hearth to sizzle and dry.

It was an odd juxtaposition to be thinking of winter’s chill in the healthy warmth of an early September day. With the logs split and stacked, I headed inside to make lunch and plan an afternoon of more playful activities with the kids. My back was sore, my arms tired, and my hands stiff from gripping the maul. But the wood pile looked well stocked again. The front yard was cleared of branch rubble, the leaves of the remaining hunk of maple already dappled with red. And there was plenty of that perfect late-summer day left to enjoy.

Original content by Meghan McCarthyMcPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the September 12, 2014 edition of the Littleton Record.

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