“Can we go for a swim?” gasped Ezra, “I’m SO hot.”
“Maybe later bud, we have some work to get done around here first.”
“ARRRRRRRRRRGGHHH!!!…..it’s hooooot”, came his exasperated reply.
The sweat poured and the oppressive heat smothered our every movement as the kids waited with child-sized patience which continued to wane.
I had rented a splitter to rip through the last of the firewood needed for the winter ahead. By way of bad luck and worse planning the day we picked was now pushing past 90 degrees with the humidity nearing 100%. The machine growled and screeched and broke heavy chunks of ash and maple with ease as the hydraulic arm was forced against its iron wedge. The work is a dirty mix of sweat and wood chips and exhaust fumes. Ants scurry from their homes carrying tiny white eggs as logs, which have sat in place for months, are now disrupted. I wrestle a big round piece of trunk onto the cradle and hold it steady as it creaks, strains, and then pops apart - one half falling away from me onto the pile and then rolling back underneath to find my bare shin and tear back the flesh. Now I’m pissed at myself and the pace quickens. As I work, all of the other factors drift away and I get lost in the effort of good hard labor. I notice that the kids have disappeared from their stacking duties but I don’t care. Who could blame them, it. is. hot. I think to myself as I muckle on to more tree.
When the pile gets high I kick it to the sides and keep rolling in rhythmic repetition.
The late summer sun flames at the back of my neck and the sweat burns my eyes but I don’t stop. I am hopeful that all of this heat will be returned to us as we huddle around the woodstove on a distant and frigid January morning. I try to remember what it is like to feel that kind of cold and I cannot. I do not stop.
“This wood ain’t gonna split itself”, says the voice in my head, complete with the bad grammar.
I don’t stop until, eventually, Adelaide approaches with a clear glass full of ice and water.
“Thank you sweetie”, I say over the tumult. I smile at her shining six year-old eyes.
“You’re welcome, Papa!” she yells.
The glass is wet and the dirt from my hands runs with the drips and I guzzle every last drop and realize how thirsty I had become.
“Can I have a sip?!” I hand her the glass and holding it carefully with two little hands she manages to steal one of my ice cubes.
“Thank you!” she slurps and trots off in a satisfied sort of way.
I coax out an ice cube for myself and return to work before the mojo starts to fade and my resolve softens. The Sun does not let up as it rolls high across the summer sky, reddening exposed skin under its fiery wrath. I stop only to refuel the splitter, as time wears on into the afternoon, and slowly the pile is diminished.
When it’s over I click off the motor, which served admirably as my swinging axe all day. I remove my earplugs and find a ringing still inside my head. I look up to see my entire family standing near the van, swimsuits on, staring at me like I must have gone mad. The look in Amanda’s eyes tells me that asking the kids to help me stack wood for an hour would probably not be met with any kind of enthusiasm.
“So. Are we going for a swim or what?” I say to much rejoicing and loading of bodies into the family traveler.
The kids explode from the doors as they open, each naming what they plan to do first as their legs churn toward the sandy beach.
Amanda takes the baby from me, “go cool off honey, you worked hard today…and well, you’re pretty smelly.”
I love this woman.
The water feels perfectly cool, almost surreal against my skin as I walk straight up to my waist and plunge. Immersed. The relief is instant. I can feel my body temperature drop, if that’s possible. I stay there, below the surface, as long as my lungs allow. Suspended from reality for just a few moments I think of absolutely nothing but how good it feels. The sweaty grime of my workday washes away and the drone of motors seeps out through my pours as I slowly let that breath go… then break back up through the surface to the sounds of my laughing children.
“Papa! Papa! Watch this!!” I am treated to Harper dunking his head for the first time, which is more like dipping the front of his hair and leaving the rest dry. I giggle with him as he proudly rubs the trickling water from his eyes with tiny balled up fists.
I slide up next to him in the water and he climbs onto my back and gives me instructions on which way to go.
I sit on a rock and dip Annabel’s toes into the water as Mama gets her own relief from the day.
The big kids plunge and swim and dare each other and smile.
We watch as the evening Sun drops out of sight and leaves us staring into a painted sky of soft summer hues. The lake, completely calm from the rippling waves of its day, reflects it all back and we are in between this world and the next.
Soon the kids will need us to mediate some sort of dispute. Soon we will pack up and then unpack and shuttle kids in and out of the bathroom to their beds and our life will resume with all of its messy, noisy, wonderful ebb and flow.
But, for right now, this spot along the shore of our hometown lake is all I will ever need.