It is fall and the farm stand at the head of the lake displays pumpkins, gourds and mums. However, when I pass this farm stand I am immediately attracted to a huge pile of split wood that covers the side lawn. And whenever I see this split wood I am filled with nostalgia from my earlier days when I was young and splitting wood was a favorite event in my life.
I would gather logs that had accumulated on Palisades Road. I set a large log against the stone wall at the edge of my property, place a metal wedge on the top surface, raise an awl and hammer away until the wood split. I can still hear that satisfying sound as two pieces fell to the ground. This was the beginning of my woodpile. If the two pieces were too large I would break the wood into four parts. This would be perfect to start the fire in my fireplace.
As the years passed, and my strength diminished, I chose wood with a smaller circumference. Placing the wood vertically on a tree trunk which served as a foundation, I took a sharp ax, raised it over my shoulder and summoning all my strength came down on the chunk of wood. The wood split neatly and again I heard that melodious sound as the wood split and fell to the ground. At days end, exhausted, I admired my wood pile, the sound of the cracking wood reverberating in my ears.
In recent years I used a hydraulic splitter and simply fed the piece of wood into the machine. However, this hydraulic splitter never seemed authentic and I longed for the days of wedges, awls and an ax.
I wonder why splitting wood evoked such satisfaction. Some reasons were obvious. I now had sufficient fuel for the winter when the cold winds found their way through the cracks between the pine slats of my house. In addition, the act of splitting wood filled my day’s exercise quota, but when I think back to those days when I stood outside nestled in my red and black Woolrich wool shirt, I felt a sense of accomplishment. As each piece of wood split I was in control of my environment and the sound the splitting wood made was a chorus of affirmation. For a while I was master of the world. I had control.
At this time, when we are besieged by the corona virus, we have relinquished our sense of control. That sharp crack of splitting wood brings back days of old.
Your observations are like poetry in motion; and taking control is the most challenging leitmotif of our time.
When I see a wood pile I think of the poem
Woodsman Woodsman Spare that tree
By George Pope Morris
Poignant reflection and sympathetic with a loss of physical and mental connection with the new splitting machines. There is still the task of sorting and storing like stacking bales of hay that remains and keeps us in the loop. At least my fireplace is not gas but hey there are many things to consider. We are lucky to have such wonderful memories and your blog happily recalls them.
Seen any loons mine are not audible or visible and it seems early for them to go?
Dan, Beautiful reflection. I have a different memory of “splitting wood” from my father. He used to quote a Russian saying: “Drinking tea is not like splitting wood.” I think the feeling in Russia differed from yours — perhaps because it’s colder there and more wood was needed….
My husband is one of those who revels in the splitting of wood by hand. Your personal recollection has explained to me something I never quite understood. Now, I ‘get’ it.
My husband will enjoy your entry very much; I will be sure to share it with him.
Good thoughts Dan, but did you use an awl or a maul? I’m not familiar with a splitting tool called an awl.