(HOST) As the days get shorter, commentator Willem Lange is contemplating what it takes for the woodpile to get higher.
used to caution my carpenters, whenever we had a job requiring
demolition, that it should not be not a demonstration of machismo, but
of brains. "Go at it as if you were seventy years old," I advised. Now
that I’ve a while ago passed that milestone, I find it easier than ever
to take my own advice – especially in splitting wood. No more heaving
hardwood bolts from place to place; no more monster maul; no more
running with the wheelbarrow; just a slow, purposeful procession from
one task to another. I’m accompanied by the tools that over decades
have become a part of me: an ancient chain saw that still amazes me, a
platform peavey to keep the saw chain out of the dirt, a light axe for
trimming branches, and a Swedish splitting maul I wish I’d discovered
years earlier. And a bottle of ibuprofen.
a lot to recommend wood-splitting by the elderly. Loosed from the
fantasy of superhumanity, we can ruminate while we work. I’m much more
careful with tools than I once was. When a block of soft maple presents
a dime-sized target of heartwood, I aim dead at it; no knots can run
through it, and it’ll split clean with a single blow. I sometimes
recite Robert Frost’s "Two Tramps in Mud Time." Frost split blocks of
oak, he says. He changed it from an earlier manuscript in which he
split beech. Doesn’t matter; either one is a joy to work with, but oak
is heavier to handle. I keep the splits well back from my chopping
block, lest I stumble over one and go crashing down. I throw the
best-looking ones onto a separate pile. They go into the wood rack on
the back porch, so visitors can admire them; the regulars go into the
cellar next to the furnace.
a difference from the days when I used a hydraulic splitter – bent for
hours over the roaring engine, running chunks through as fast as
possible, closed off from everything by ear plugs. Now, even though I’m
still looking down, I see a lot more.
earwig runs across the floor of the wheelbarrow. I’ve read that adult
earwigs dutifully tend their children, so I wait for it to get clear
before loading wood. A length of popple about to get sawn into
sixteen-inch chunks shows a small hole in the bark where a large black
wasp appears to have a nest. I set it aside. Old age seems to have
increased my regard for the little creatures beneath my feet. I help a
daddy longlegs out of the line of fire. A chunk of dried mud moves
slightly, right where I’m about to toss a piece of fancy-grade maple for
the porch – a small toad. I carry him to a safe spot. In splitting
wood, as in other professions, it’s important to do no harm.
This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.