Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Poetry of Chopping Wood

The feeling of a sharp axe splitting cleanly through an aromatic log in the crisp fall air is something that I never grow tired. I don't get a chance to do it very often anymore since neither my parents nor I use wood heat. Now, one day a year, I'll chop wood for a family friend who's husband died of cancer four years ago so that she may have heat through the relatively mild winters of northern Arkansas. But it is an act that I cherish.

It takes me roughly a couple dozen swings to get into the 'swing' of things where I am limbered up and can accurately hit my mark. I'll pick up my next victim and set it up on the flat and hard surface that I have selected near my woodpile. With trained eyes, I look for the weak spot or the 'sweet' spot where I feel that the axe will slice through. Rotating the log until that spot is perfectly in front of me, I firmly grip the axe and start the backward swing that will eventually rotate through a full circle back to the log. If swung correctly, momentum can do most of the work and very little force needs to be put into the axe, assuming you hit the spot you were aiming at. The force you do apply is on the downward motion of the stroke and your aim is not the top of the log where the axe will first strike but at the bottom where the axe will end up. If done correctly, the log will leap apart as easily as if you had been chopping a soft stick of butter. The second to swings to split the log into fourths follow the same procedure but usually require even less effort due to their smaller size.

As you swing away, you can feel every muscle in your upper body working in unison, turning your body into a mechanical piston, rhythmically chopping away. It is a good feeling and one that you can't duplicate with thousands of dollars of exercise equipment. You lungs seem to expand larger with every breath pulling in that clean crisp fall air that feels dense and full seemingly satisfying a hunger that you never knew existed. Soon the air is filled with the sappy aromas of various woods like nature's own scented candles as the stack grows ever higher. I pace myself much like a diet, not going too fast but keeping up the rhythm, working in the harmony of the outdoors.

Finally, throwing a well-seasoned log onto a fire and standing in front of the fireplace feeling the heat creep through you body, you enjoy the fruits of your labor. The warmth tickles the skin removing the winter chill and then permeates deep into your very marrow and keeps you warm many hours removed. The crackling snaps of the fire mesmerize your hearing as the glowing coals mesmerize your eyes pulling you into the very depths of its heat. Finally breaking the hypnotic bonds, you find a comfortable chair within the range of the radiating heat waves and enjoy a good book while the snow-laden wind howls its fury outside.

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