The first time I went out, all bundled and eager to split my own fire wood, I came back with a lump on my face the size of an egg. I didn’t know how to aim my weapon, and a chunk of the log chipped off and struck me hard on the cheek. I sported a black-eye for my daughter’s #2 birthday party, then went without eye-lashes for one month because I got too close to the fire. It quickly became clear to me that there was more to this business of heating with wood than I thought, and so I let Dan take over that chore. I got pregnant with our son, and that alone seemed like reason enough to stop fooling around with the ax.
Then came The Year of the Hand. After thirteen years as a woodworker, a significant injury was inevitable, and really, Dan was very, very lucky. I guess it’s something of a badge of honor among older craftsmen, and we tried to keep that in mind as Dan came home from the hospital with his arm in a sling. That winter, his only job was to heal. Our son was two, our daughter in Kindergarten, and I still didn’t know how to use the ax. Truth is, I was scared. They say you don’t remember pain, and that is why women continue to have children even after they discover what labor is. But I do remember the pain of that black eye, and the way my stomach got all queasy when an ax glanced down around my feet.
Winter was coming, and my husband’s parents offered to buy us a wood-splitter. But we were living this way on purpose, and it seemed important to follow through.
At first it would take me a long time just to fill the wood stove. I would take my ax and whack and whack at a log, and it would fall over and I would pick it up and whack and whack at it again. When it wouldn’t split, I would turn it over and try it again from the other side. Those logs would be covered every which-a-way with my hack marks, and sometimes I would even throw them back on the pile and try another one. I had no idea what I was doing. I would march back inside, peel off my sweaty gloves and say something like,
“That bastard just won’t break apart!”
Dan would nod and smile and give me a few encouraging words. He always advised me on the small things, the position of the knot holes, how to listen for the sound of a good aim. He would tell me just enough to get me back out there, armed with new information so I could go at it again. When somebody you love goes through a life changing experience with little children watching, you learn about courage. He never once doubted that I could do it, and I always went back outside. That winter, our home seemed especially warm.
You know how books have been written comparing life to the game of golf? They say there is nothing you can’t learn about living that time spent on a fairway can’t teach. Well, after the Year of the Hand, I can tell you the same kind of analogy applies to life and logs. You can’t always walk in swinging. Sometimes you have to assess strengths and weakness. You have to know how to read a log, just like some people, or they won’t cooperate. Logs rotten through the middle still have some value in them, just like rotten people. And if you’ve really got a tough nut to crack, be it a person or a situation, sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all. Stand back and take a look. It’s not about strength, or force, or pressure. It’s about patience and aim. If you’ve got those two things, sooner or later, everything opens up.
To learn more about heating with wood, the following links will take you to Carol’s other articles: