My youngest son makes his living as a builder. Often, trees must be felled to clear the construction site where he works. In the spring and summer, he hauls this wood back home to dry. Fall is the time for splitting and stacking and, recently, I joined him to help.
A small mountain of wood awaits us. We toil in the shade of a fir tree next to his workshop. He wrangles the rounds into place and I operate the lever of the hydraulic splitter. Once we find our rhythm, a pyramid of ochre colored wood splits rises, each piece an hour’s worth of BTUs for the wood stove.
The greenest of the wood, a diseased pine, squishes as the wedge parts the still damp chunks. Centipedes and beetles scurry across our shoes, away from the hospitality of the rotted bark. The more seasoned fir, dry as a skeleton, cracks like bones.
We pace ourselves with the size of the splitter’s gas tank, working until the engine sputters and dies. We rest in the shade, admiring our work and his property. He lives with his wife and daughter at the bottom of a dead end road that descends west from State 281. It crosses the railroad tracks and stops at a guardrail. Far below, the Hood River hurries along, murmuring its tribute to the pilgrimage of wild salmon.
Kayakers park their cars here during the summer months. Come winter, the county snowplow turns around in the broad expanse that includes my son’s driveway. His acreage peels off to the south and skirts the cliff of the river canyon. Eagles, hawks, and great blue herons ride the ravine’s air currents. My granddaughter will grow up listening to their voices mixed with the hoots of owls and the lonely drone of train whistles.
We stack the wood into neat rows, building a fortress of heat against the inevitability of winter. When the splitter’s engine cools, we start again on the unworked wood. Several tanks and two Sundays later, all that remains is a heap of cedar to hand split for kindling.
I depart, heading for home in town. Freckles of scabs dot my legs and forearms. Dried blood streaks the skin, which is as fragile as rice paper due to steroids I take for my cancer.
Nonetheless, I am healthy, healthy enough, at least, to assist with the rituals of rural living. The repetitive work of splitting and stacking firewood is a meditation on the cycles of the seasons of life. Winter is out there, coming our way, and we are ready.