Log therapy

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Nov 22, 2012

Whine-thump, whine-thump! The sound of the wood splitter has been heard on our porch on many days over the last three months and more. It is the constant accompaniment to stacking firewood — four cords of it — to fuel the wood stove and reduce our dependence on oil.

Of course, since she's retired and therefore available during the daylight hours on weekdays, Maureen has done more than most of it, both splitting and stacking. I have contributed a few hours after work when it was light and a few more on weekends; just enough to legitimately say I helped.

It is companionable work, with the whine-thump of the splitter providing an excuse just to think our own thoughts rather than talking, our solidarity in the task is enough. Every now and then, a dog trots up to ask that his Frisbee be thrown. The stack grows, getting high enough that I don't have to bend over to place the logs just in time to save my back. Can I put just one more row on top? I'm always reluctant to start a new stack and go back to stooping.

I choose the wood carefully (usually, Maureen runs the splitter and I stack), trying to keep the rows level enough that the stack will be stable. It's not always easy, and sometimes I cheat by sticking a thin piece underneath a layer to lift it up a bit. Or I put an oddly shaped log on top of an already-finished stack so I won't have to balance anything on it.

Sometimes I have to balance myself as well, because we stack the wood on pallets, and when I'm starting a new pallet I have to balance on the slats to stack. That's one of the harder parts, requiring a lot of stooping, as well as the awkward standing position.

Somewhere around three cords or a little more fits on the porch, and then we stack on a few more pallets laid on the ground on the side of the house. This was the first year we'd gotten four cords, and it may also be the last — it was a lot of work for a couple of women who aren't as young as they used to be.

Actually, it was just a lot of work, period.

It's only the splitter and Maureen's ATV and cart that make it possible for us to stack this much wood at all. I can't imagine what it must have been like to chop down your own trees, cut them into log-sized pieces and then split them with a maul and axe. And after that, haul it all to a storage place either by hand or in a wheelbarrow. Thank goodness for electricity and the gas engine!

A natural by-product of splitting the wood are the bits of kindling that come off the logs as they're split. These we save to help start a fire when the coals have gone out. Those little wooden pint boxes that farm stands use for fresh strawberries are ideal containers for the tinder.

One thing about such physical work: it's a break from too much thinking. When I'm stressed or in emotional pain, it can be a relief to do something with my body, to have only my muscles ache for a while. The wood pile grows, I feel the chilly wind and see the hard, bright blue sky, and my heart eases a little.

A couple of weekends ago we finally finished splitting and stacking our wood for this winter. The splitter is quiet, the ATV cart has been put away, our backs are recuperating. Soon we'll have to put the plow blade on the ATV.

But for now, it is good to look across the yard at the empty place where the mighty pile of wood was, and then at the covered porch, where our firewood stands in tidy stacks, waiting to keep us warm.

Time to pull a chair up to the fire and dream.

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