Wood pile

Through the winter months when my friends are going to the gym, taking yoga or pilates, I’m cutting wood. It’s my gym, my church, my movie night. Last year I had a few trees taken down so that from the top of the ridge where my house perches I have a pocket view of the Catskill Mountains. I felt badly about cutting what were mostly beech trees, so like the hunter who decides to take a deer and eat every part: heart, liver, thighs and knees, I decided I should use this wood. The difficulty is that these trees are down a hill and all I had was a little handsaw.

I cut my logs about eight inches in diameter, and about 36 inches long (it is never, however, this precise). This part of the cutting is the most satisfying, a sort of meditation on an outsized game of pick up sticks. What will drop easily? What will I have to support, and what will fall if I take this piece here? I pile these in one place and carry them up the hill. It was during this phase that a young friend, Remi, pointed out I should be using a better saw. A little research later and I had a Silky Katanaboy, a work of art that slices through wood like butter.

The start of the woodpileOnce my lengths are cut, I carry them up the hill. Or in a Tom Sawyer move I get others to carry for me. I am rich in young people in my life, and whenever they visit I say: want to come see my woods? As if it might be the greatest treat.  Only I referred to the section of woods where the trees lay for the taking as my elk hunting ground. No one thought this as funny as I did yet still everyone has brushed into the woods with me and hauled his or her share of log

Back at the house, I cut them into three lengths and split and stack. All of this takes time but I found that an hour or more a day (I tried not to let the cutting take over, become a day long obsession, which it easily can) and it starts to add up not unlike writing a book that with an hour a day becomes whole, though with the book it’s less obvious and when I write often I have to take logs back down to the woods.  Bring them back up. Return them. It’s a lot less linear. For this, wood cutting, splitting and stacking is infinitely more satisfying.

If someone can tell me how to turn Alice and her log upright, that would be greatIf I have resisted the obsession of cutting, the whole process of my wood pile is an obsession. And it’s not just my woodpile that absorbs my attention. When I drive the back roads of Dutchess county looking for birds I often pull to the side of the road when a particularly beautiful wood pile comes into view. And by beautiful I mean what my wood pile is not: ordered, as if the stacking itself were an art form.

When I write in my journal in the morning, large notebook flat on the wooden table, my grand mother’s fountain pen (yes, I am that much of a cliché of morning journal writing) at the ready, the lines start to drift. Inward. So that the left hand margin of black ink slowly bellies in, like a gentle bow of a river. My woodpile is similar, only it bellies out, like someone who drank a bit too much beer. A few months ago during one of our many winter storms, it collapsed. A woodpile must rise straight, and I worry that straight lines are not a part of my DNA.

What is my DNA? I can find out, it seems, so easily. But this is what I know from family history. My mother’s father was Swedish, my mother’s mother French. On my father’s side American back through too many generations. Probably British. Is it the Scandinavian in me that wants the woodpile (the Norwegians are obsessed with wood) and the French in me that makes it a messy pile?

In the summer months this messy pile toasts in the sun. I look at it with satisfaction and friends admire it and ask: why don’t you get a chainsaw? Why don’t I write my journal on my computer, which would be so much more efficient!? Because inefficiency is a luxury and one I love more than a fancy hotel or a four star restaurant. When I am curating my woodpile I write sentences in my head. I think things like: having a chainsaw is like having a gun; both will go off in ways you don’t expect or want. No matter how careful you are. My inefficient wood time is my greatest solace, my silence, my friend. And there’s a side benefit: I am both strong and warm, all through the winter.

Resident garter snake in woodpileNow in the summer when I don’t need my wood to burn, into and onto this toasted woodpile snakes, sweet garter snakes, have arrived. It looks like a young family, growing, molting, eating whatever dares to trespass into their domain. My messy pile is their castle. And this messy writing is now my first blog post for the summer, a return to writing, I hope about the adventures in everyday life.


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