The Joys of Chopping Wood

4 Nov

blount

Roy Blount Jr. is a great Southern writer and humorist.

Enjoy this short story, which recently appeared in Garden & Gun magazine.

What’s the most satisfying thing to swing? I don’t mean to whirl, like a partner, or to pull off, like a deal. I mean to whack something with. Since I have hit a golf ball just right a few times (liberal estimate: seven), I can see why golfers would say a driver. A real wooden hardball bat is a fine thing in its simplicity, if you can shut out all the pop-ups and dribblers of your youth. A tennis racket…there again, it depends on how cozy you are with the sweet spot.

I vote for a splitting maul. You know what that is—an ax, except that its head is a wedge, so when you hit a chunk of wood with it along the grain, bingo, you’ve got two chunks of wood. I know: “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder,” but that doesn’t apply to logs.

If you ask me, in fact, a good stack of split firewood is prettier than a tree. I used to have a free-form woodpile in my yard that reached about eight feet in height. Animals lived in it. I stopped adding to it when people accused me of making a sculpture. No, it may have been baroque, but it was a woodpile. Bit by bit, I burned it in my fireplace. As a woodpile, it held together. As it burned, it crackled.

I used to have a peavey. You may be wondering how a grown man could be careless enough to lose track of a five-foot peavey. (Peaveys come in various lengths; my peavey was a sixty-incher.)

You know what a peavey is, surely: a stout hardwood shaft with a metal spike (called the pick) and a hinged hook (called the socket) at the business end. The Peavey Manufacturing Company still makes peaveys at a site on the Penobscot River, in Maine, just five miles from where Joseph Peavey invented the standard peavey in his blacksmith shop in 1857.

The peavey was an improvement over the cant dog and the swing dingle. It grabbed better and was more stable. It is still a lumberjack’s main tool for maneuvering masses of wood: breaking up logjams, pushing over nearly cut-through trees, and performing various other chores about which it can be said, “Try doing that digitally.”

I had a peavey and used it, too. Used to. I still carry a hatchet and a small saw in the trunk of my car for picking up road-crew leavings—a lightning-struck tree or limbs cleared out of the way of traffic—but it seems as if the bigger logs get hauled away now. And I must admit, I am less spry than I once was when it comes to horsing things into my car on a highway shoulder.

I don’t even have two wedges anymore. If you’re working with a log that’s maybe eight feet long and eighteen inches thick, and you eschew chain saws, as I do, you’re going to need two wedges. You bang one of them into one end of the log with your sledgehammer. Sometimes, once that wedge is in there good and deep, you can hear the log still cracking, more and more faintly, for up to a minute. (It’s a little like when you stick a knife in a ripe-to-bursting watermelon and it begins to go br-rooooach.) Then you go to where the crack ends and bang the second wedge in there, so the first wedge will be loose enough to pull out. Bang that one into where the crack now ends, and you have two long half logs that you can saw up with your thirty-six-inch bow saw and split further with your maul. That—especially when you are supposed to be doing something else—is some likable work.

Why do I eschew a chain saw? Because that, to me, is not a good noise. GBRAAAATZ, like somebody yelling into a cell phone. So it’s a question of aesthetics, and then too, every cutting tool that I have used, over the years, I have cut myself with. Cut or at least bonked. I got my pants leg hooked on my peavey once and was violently thrown to the ground. It was all right. Gave me another occasion, when people asked what happened to my nose, to use the word peavey.

For more good writing on Southern subjects, go to www.gardenandgun.com

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