(He wrote about it last summer.)
Firewood is the project of the moment. I take that back, actually - because firewood is always the project for Steve (and his trusty sidekick, Purple Working Man). Cutting trees to better manage the forest growth or clear way for more sun in the pastures, clearing dead standing, driving around with the truck to pick it all up and haul it back to the woodshed to cut to length. That's all before the rest of us step in - into the split and stack phase, which is exactly where we are right now. If he gets everything queued up and cut to length, the rental of a woodsplitter for a long weekend generally gets the job done, and leaves us with a pile of split wood, ready for stacking. That's when the real fun begins. Ahem.
There is perhaps nothing that gets my three little sisters and I moaning and rolling our adult eyes like the mention of firewood. In our suburban home growing up, it was our primary source of heat. An old 1910's sea captain's home with winding rooms and two woodstoves that took a great deal of wood to heat (hmn...kind of a like an 1820's farmhouse with hardly any insulation). My father - despite having a mere one acre plot for a backyard - on the ocean, no less, with nary a tree to be found - was never without a source of wood. A (to this day) scavenger of the best sort, he'd find it on the side of the road, or take someone's overgrown tree down in exchange for the firewood. He did it because it was the frugal thing to do, because he deemed it the most environmental choice, and he did it - I now know - because he loved the work of it. And so it was that each year, just about this time, though maybe a little bit earlier because he's on top of things like that, the stacking and splitting would commence. As a family.
This weekend, as Harper and Steve pulled into the drive hauling the woodsplitter behind the truck, I heard the communal moaning begin. After filling them up with the most fueling breakfast I could, we - the seven of us - got to work. I tried to hide my smiles as the words came out of their months, words I knew before they said them, "You know, Dad, there's a thing called a FURNACE that works really well. You just, you know, flip a switch and presto, it's ON!" and "Why don't we do this in October when it's not so HOT." and my personal favorite "When I have kids, I'm never going to make them do this."
There's a little more sass like that, some bickering, inevitably someone gets 'injured' and needs to 'take a break', and then Steve and I have a heated debate over just exactly how the end of the stacks should be laid out, while they watch on in entertainment trying to hide their own smiles from us. And so it goes. A familiar dance - once I know so well, one this family is coming to know so well. And even, I dare say, enjoy. Because after the bumps and the hiccups and the bickering and the injuries, something amazing happens. We fall into the rhythm of the work, together, the seven of us. The youngests among us - who never were complaining to begin with - hauling a wagon back and forth with small pieces of wood, and each other. Someone makes sure we're well-hydrated with frequent trips to refill the water jugs. One of us gets really into the puzzle of making the stack just so - strong and tall. The older boys learn how to run the splitter and don't want to stop. And all around me the sounds have shifted from whining and complaining to laughter and story and raps to the sound of the splitter (oh, those boys of mine). I know it won't last forever, this moment, that soon someone will get in someone else's way, and harsh words will be spoken. Or...some other disruption will occur. But for a little while anyway, I look around and see sweat, sawdust, mess, and peace. We've found our working rhythm - the one that gets the job done, the one that leaves us feeling satisfied at the end of the day, the one that makes our family stronger. I am glad for the work. I think we all are.
(The day always ends like this. It's family tradition.)