Three Old Men Cutting Wood
Saturday, August 24, 2013
The great hardwood disk lies on the ground at the edge of a pile of similarly-sized disks. I know it well. A few days ago it took me half an hour to cut it, and in the process it completely dulled the teeth on my chainsaw.
Actually I’ve cut several of the disks that are lying here – all from the trunk of the great maple tree that fell across our parking lot in the July 19 tornado. These disks are now to be “split.” The machine that is sputtering and roaring a little way up the hill is going to separate them into firewood.
“Junior” and “Birthday Boy.” You can see two disks on the ground nearby.
My job is to get the disks up to them.
Should I try to pick this one up and carry it? Okay, let’s see: bend down, get my fingers under the edges, and... ugh... unnggg... lift... it. Now try to walk with it. One step... anoth... uh oh I can’t hold it any longer! Let it down gently before it falls and breaks my foot, and rolls away, far down to the lake!
Okay. Can’t carry it. Gotta roll it up to the splitter. So I tip it onto its edge and begin to trundle it upwards, straining to get it over root and rock, then onto the gravel, then across to those guys with the machine.
Those old guys with the machine.
All three of us are old, in fact.
The one running the machine? It’s his birthday today, and he’s seventy. The one feeding the wood into the device? He’s the baby of the group at a mere sixty-four. I’m the oldest, at seventy-two.
The youngster – let’s call him “Junior” – bends down to pick up the disk that I have so laboriously rolled up to him. I know that he has a bad back; is he going to lift it? Really?
His muscles tense... and... it’s up, and heaved onto the machine! Birthday Boy pulls a lever, the hydraulics groan, and soon with a loud crack a chunk splits off that disk. Birthday Boy, one gloved hand steadying the machine, tosses the chunk with the other hand to a pile growing at his feet. I pick up a few of these cut pieces and carry them down to a stack that I’m making.
But another disk needs to be taken up to these people right away. I don’t even try to lift it this time; I just pull it – unngh – upright, and begin to roll it toward the chugging machine. By the time I get it there, Birthday Boy has tossed a few more split pieces behind him, so I pick those up and return with them to my stack of finished firewood. Now, get another disk.
And so it goes, I roll one incredibly heavy 1 disk after another up to the splitter, and with a little bit of envy watch Junior heft it into place (oh to be sixty-four again!). As Birthday Boy applies the splitter and tosses pieces to one side, I load some into my arms and take them to the ever-increasing woodpile.
After forty minutes, I’m so tired that I’m walking like a drunk. Unsteady, muscles trembling, I’m at risk of tripping over the tiniest bumps in the ground. I need to sit down. But the two at the machine keep right on, and so I roll another disk up to them to be split, and another, and another.
Finally we stop, because Birthday Boy is tiring, too – a little bit. He had hurt his knee at golf the other day, and standing there, operating the bucking and jigging machine, is taking its toll.
I sit down on a pile of gravel, sweat rolling down forehead and back.
But Junior doesn’t stop: he just picks up cut pieces of wood and starts tossing them toward my woodpile. “We really don’t need to stack them carefully, Tony,” he says, “because next week we’re just going to transfer them to my barge, anyway, for the trip across to your side of the lake!” 2
“Okay,” I say, and get up, and begin to toss pieces of wood in imitation of my friend. I have to admit that when I was trying to stack things neatly, the pile beside the splitter had grown faster than I could take it away, and quite a lot had accumulated.
Three quarters of the great tree that once had stretched across our parking area are now reduced to firewood. Unfortunately, although the job is not done, I have now reached a point where I am utterly finished. I collapse back on to my pile of gravel and watch Birthday Boy and Junior continue to work.
We have moved the machine down to the water’s edge, where there is a second pile of disks and logs, taken from the higher reaches of the tree that had projected out over the water. At least now no one needs to roll disks uphill. These pieces of wood are also a bit smaller and lighter, so Junior – despite his bad back – can quite easily carry them the short distance to the machine and heft them into place.
So I shout in his ear – over the clatter and roar of the machine – “I’m done – finished – kaput! I can do no more. I wish I could see this through to the end, but there isn’t an ounce of strength left in me. I’m going in to Grenville on some errands.” Junior doesn’t take his eyes off the work. He nods, and I stumble up the hill to my car and drive away.
Driving requires no great exertion. One needs eyes, ears, slight movement of hand and wrist, and slight movement of the feet, all the while being seated in a posture-supporting chair. I can do that.
In Grenville I picked up my chainsaw from the repair shop where I had left it for sharpening, I filled the car with gas, and I bought a newspaper. When I got back to the lake, the entire job had been done, the machine had been taken away, and my two friends were gone. 3
I got in my boat and went back across to our side of the lake. There I found that visitors had arrived – one of my nephews, his wife and two little girls. I was delighted to see them, and chatted with them for a while, but I could not keep my eyes open. I wandered into my cottage, and within minutes was sound asleep.
Last year in this space, I said, “You’ll get no more moaning about old age from me!” 4 Well, this is merely a description of a work party, isn’t it? No moaning.
Next: A Flea in Your Ear?
1 I estimate that each of these disks weighs a minimum of sixty pounds. The tree is thought to be a “bird’s eye” maple – a particularly dense and heavy type of wood. I suppose that at one time it might have been good for high-quality furniture, but the tree fell because large amounts of it had become rotten.
2 All of this firewood is to be shared between Junior, me, and another guy who has also done a lot of work cutting up the tree, and who just couldn’t be with us today. Birthday Boy, who contributed – and ran – the wood-splitter, gets no benefit from all this work; he’s just a really nice helpful guy.
3 I saw Junior the next day. He told me that it took them forty-five minutes more to complete the work. He went to Birthday Boy’s, and sat in a chair expecting to be sociable for a while, but within minutes had fallen sound asleep.