I bought a huge load of wood this year and it is nice and dry, almost perfect, but some of the pieces are a little too big for my fireplace. I needed to buy an ax to cut up the more cumbersome logs, split them down into kindling and make them fit.
I spent an afternoon stacking the wood and it looks impressive, a looming wall of logs up against the fence, neatly arranged. I was sore after the job, but it felt good. I know I’m not the first guy to discover that physical labor can feel great and is healthy and satisfying. That was probably one of the Roman Stoics in the third or fourth century AD, just around the time the Roman Empire was collapsing and they were running out of slaves to do the heavy lifting.
Stacking wood is weight bearing; the moving of objects from one place to another for an hour or so will help keep a person in good shape, strong and capable. Much better than standing still in a gym full of boneheads lifting barbells and tugging on threatening machines, running nowhere on treadmills.
Picking up fifty armloads of wood and staggering twenty yards to stack it is gratifying and I don’t feel judged because I’m not dressed in the proper workout attire or I’m not slim enough and young and confident. I’m alone, out of breath, sweaty, covered in sawdust and dirt, my hands are scratched and filthy, but I’m doing something practical. And it’s relatively free. Of course, and this is a legitimate concern, there is no one around to administer CPR if something goes wrong, as it inevitably will. I can’t get a sixty-dollar massage and we don’t have a tanning booth, but I’m also not worried about anyone stealing my wallet or some testo-aggro dude who is looking for trouble.
This morning I went to the hardware store and purchased an ax so I can chop the wood. I’ve never done that before, it was a unique, once in a lifetime experience. My First Ax. Felt good, let me say. I can never repeat the act of purchasing my first ax; it’s like first sex or first drink, first fight and first divorce. A right of passage.
At the door of the hardware store I ran into my physical therapist. He’s a nice guy, handsome with good hair, serious, healthy as hell, strong, and he has helped me significantly with my chronic back problem and the tendonitis in my left arm.
I’ve never felt comfortable with small talk and I don’t do it well. I’m usually accused of being inappropriate or obscene or dismissive. Most people tend to be sincere if they ask a question and they don’t expect a wise crack. I grew up differently and am always prepared for an automatic insult, a nasty response or sarcasm. I wish it wasn’t true. Over the past decade I’ve become much more integrated into the normal conversational deportment of others and I try to restrain myself, but when I’m feeling good and caffeinated I sometimes don’t edit as well as I should.
The physical therapist is twenty years younger than I am but he cheerfully called out, “Hey, how are you doing, young man? How’s the back?”
“My back is good today. Thanks for the help.”
“What are you getting?”
“An Ax. Some guy just pissed me off. I need an ax.”
“So, what, are you going to work out your aggression by chopping a bunch of fireplace wood?”
I looked at him, squinted and realized he was completely serious. This is the way some people truly think. Their first word association when they hear the word “Ax” is “Wood”. Incredible.
I answered, “No. I don’t have a fireplace.”
He giggled nervously, realized that I was kidding him. Finally, I thought. Jesus, dude. I immediately, instinctively, decided that there was something wrong with him, but in reality, to this healthy young man the concept of working out one’s anger, anxiety, aggression by doing some exercise or hard physical work was as natural as breathing. I am in a prolonged state of recovery, but I'm occasionally reminded that there may still be flaws in my thinking and reactions.
The ax I bought is a beautiful tool with a smoothly curved and tapered handle; it’s heavy enough to swing overhead and let the momentum do most of the work. It came pre-sharpened and slices through wood like butter, if I hit the log right. I missed a lot of the time, swung at thin air, jerking and jumping out of the way of the deadly blade, but still, it was a good half hour workout and I felt manly and outdoorsy when I was finished. Now I have a big pile of wood in varying sizes that will fit the fireplace. Success and health. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.
I thought about leaving my new ax outside, near the woodpile, but instead I’ve put it right next to the front door in the foyer, leaning against the wall. I can’t imagine using it for anything other than chopping wood, but you never know.