Work

Yesterday I got the boats and tools into storage and finally have an empty pickup. At the bottom of the pile in the pickup were my sledge hammers and splitting maul. I even had a wedge. There was a dump trailer load of birch, cut into fireplace lengths that needed to be split, so I took up the maul and wedge and split a couple of the logs. I had no intention of doing the whole pile, as our son had arranged to borrow a splitter from a neighbor and the job was relegated to the weekend. I don’t remember ever splitting birch before. It is an interesting hardwood. The wood was fairly dry and the logs I chose split tough on the first pass, but after that they split nicely into wedges, mostly with a single pass of the maul.

The neighbor saw me splitting and rushed over with his splitter. As he delivered it, he said, “I don’t want to leave it here next to the street where it might get stolen, so when I hear it turned off, I’ll come back and pick it up.

That did it. I was committed. Three tanks of gas, nearly two quarts of water, and four hours later, I finally got through the last log. Sure enough, the neighbor had been watching from across the street and was over with his lawn tractor to pick up the splitter before I got it shut down and the tank filled with gas. Whenever there was a branch, the logs were gnarly and as tough and stringy as cottonwood, but most of the logs split nicely into a huge pile of wood that should nearly fill one of the woodsheds. It was a good piece of work and it was great of the neighbor to lend us the splitter.

Fortunately, our son got home from work when I still had a dozen or so logs to split and he ran the splitter and sped up the process at the very end.

I can feel it in my hands and shoulders this morning. Those were heavy logs.

We went through a lot of firewood when I was growing up. My dad finally got a really big log splitter, but not until after I was in college. That machine worked off of the hydraulics of a farm tractor and would split anything. It was a bit slow, but it never failed to push the head through any log that we tried. Prior to that splitter, I split a bit of firewood with the maul and wedge. At home we burned a lot of slabs from a lumber mill, which didn’t need to be split, just cut to length. But for two summers as camp manager, I split a lot of wood by hand. I’d split for a half hour or more every morning. I built up the muscles in my arms and shoulders and I learned to swing the maul without going long and breaking the handle. I’ve still got the touch with the maul. I know how to let the weight of the tool do the work, but hand splitting takes a long time. I certainly would not have finished that pile of wood in a week were I splitting it by hand.

I don’t think that there are many ministers who have the opportunity to split firewood as a hobby. It was a distinction that I enjoyed about being pastor of 1st Congregational UCC in Rapid City, SD. In fact I’ve been stopping by from time to time to volunteer a couple of hours with the Woodchucks. Mostly I’ve been exercising my chainsaw cutting logs to length, but I get my hand in with the splitting and stacking as well.

A happy life is a balance of intellectual and physical work. In fact, I believe that I think more clearly when I have been doing physical work. Unloading bench tools from my truck, taking boats off of the trailer and putting them back on the rack after it is unloaded, splitting wood. I found enough physical activity to make myself tired enough to sleep through the night. In fact, I’m late enough with this journal entry that folks in other time zones may be wondering why it isn’t posted yet.

But I feel good. It is a blessing to be able to do some real work and feel like I can still accomplish some tasks. I’m used to helping out around our son’s place, doing a few repair jobs, painting a bit, and helping in the garden and with the chickens. The chickens really aren’t much work aside from an occasional escape from their enclosure. Even when they get out they don’t wander far and they are easy to catch and pick up as long as you don’t chase or lunge at them. Yea, we raised chickens when I was a kid, too. Five layers isn’t much of a flock and I know that since the kids have named these birds we won’t have to butcher them in the fall. That’s the one part of chickens that I really, REALLY, don’t like. When I went away for my first semester of college I was pretty homesick, but I didn’t go home for a weekend visit, even though it was just 80 miles away, until i was certain that the last of the chickens were in the freezer. I considered it to be an appropriate balance of intellectual and physical work to leave the processing of chickens to my little brothers.

I know that there is a lot of work left back in South Dakota and we’ll be back in the thick of it in just over a week. Before long we’ll be loading furniture into a truck for the trek west, though as of today we haven’t yet selected a place to rent. We’ve looked at a few, but aren’t quit ready to make the commitment.

In the meantime, there’s over cord of firewood in a pile in the yard that needs to be stacked in the shed.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!