Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks and for my family, a time to give back. As I have blogged about in the past, we cut firewood for a widowed lady who is a friend of our family to help her heat her house through another Arkansas winter. Also, because her driveway is three miles of torturous winding two track through a hardwood forest, trees occasionally fall across the driveway blocking it and by cutting them down for firewood, we do a preemptive strike in preventing it.
So on the Friday after Thanksgiving, we loaded up my brother's pickup with mauls, wedges, chainsaws and a picnic lunch and drove over to her place. We started off the day by doing odd chores around the house such as cleaning the chimney, installing a clothes washer and working on her truck that wouldn't start. After a lunch of leftover turkey sandwiches, we set out up the driveway to cut a half cord of wood to stack and dry for use in the following winter. Because the temperatures were in the 70's and very mild, even Little Abbey joined us in her three wheeled off-road baby stroller that my wife nabbed for $15 at a local garage sale.
Most years, the dead trees are fairly small in diameter having succumbed to some tree borne disease or another. However, last year we had cut several large trees that were dead and left unattended, would have fallen across the driveway. Because we had enough wood cut last year (for this year), we just cut them down and left them. However, due to a mild winter and a dry summer in that part of the country, the wood was remarkably still well preserved and so we set about finishing the task left undone.
My brother who teaches classes on chainsaw use and is certified to use them as a forest fire fighter, usually does most of the technical work and my father who isn't as youthful as he once was does most of the rest of the log dicing into smaller pieces. My job usually ends up splitting up the larger pieces into burnable chunks. With a smaller tree, this usually means just a couple dozen lengths need to be split but with the larger trees this year, it was every length.
A new boyfriend of the widow also came along and helped me with the splitting but it was a long process. When I start splitting wood, I have to work hard to pace myself and not go to fast at the beginning in order to keep up a steady pace. By the end of the day, it was hard in finding enough energy to keep going at all. It doesn't take long to get into that zone of hoisting, swinging and splitting the log. Soon, muscles are limbered up and everything is going along smoothly. When you can look up from your work on a sunny day and see mountains unfold around you for ten miles, full of streams and more trees, work becomes a relative term.
'Grandma' and my wife took turns watching over Little Abbey from a distance but it wasn't much trouble at all. Little Abbey was perfectly content to sit in her blue off roading stroller and watch the trees fall to the forest floor to be consumed by chainsaws and splitting mauls. For five hours, she complained not once and it seemed only with reluctance did she allow her diaper to be changed or to eat more of mother's milk.
As the sun started going down, we had all but a couple trees down near the house cut up and safely stacked away for future winters. We drove back down the mountain to the house and a half hour later, had even the remaining trees threatening to fall into the house removed and neatly stacked up. Our job of charity was done for another year. With back, shoulder and chest muscles now tired and pleasantly strained, it felt good to ease on into the widow's house where a pot of chili and pan of jalapeño cornbread awaited us. We cut up the wood as a way of giving back but if payment had been required, that chili and cornbread would have been payment enough.