I stare down the long wooden handle of the maul as I measure out distance to the round. Splitting juniper is hard enough, I don’t want to waste any blows. So I measure every time. I raise the maul up over my head as I inhale, exhale and bring it down. Thud. Didn’t quite get it. Measure, lift and inhale, exhale, Crack. The round is now a ¾ and ¼ round. God, I am not good at this. I pick the big chunk up and place it back on the stump.
It is Saturday morning and the newspaper lays unread in its plastic sleeve on the driveway. My coffee is probably cold, discarded next to the layers of clothing I was wearing when I started. It is a free Saturday morning in the Fall, a precious unstructured Saturday, one where I am not teaching, driving back from teaching, or finishing up a project. Splitting knotty tough old rounds of juniper on a cold Saturday morning has never been my idea of a good time. It is my partner’s idea of a Great Time. It is his annual ritual, heading out in the woods with the guys to cut wood, bringing it back, splitting and stacking that year’s heat. But this year he can’t cut or split wood. Thankfully, by some miracle, he will be able to return to all of his favorite activities by next year. But this year he can’t and it is a really hard pill for him to swallow. So I’m out here splitting wood, partly because I want to honor what is important to him, but mostly because I’m afraid of him trying to do it himself. And at first I am not so happy about it.
Measure.The darn government shutdown. Inhale.Canceled event, which is where I would be today, deep in old growth surrounded by inspiring women. Exhale.My carbon footprint this year is obscene. Crack. So much work travel. Measure.What’s wrong with using the gas furnace? Inhale. Exhale. Thud. Thud. Crack! Measure. Inhale.
Eventually rounds become wedges, some wedges become kindling. The zen of wood splitting has brought me some peace. I add the wedges to the pile and take a step back, lean on the maul and take a good long look.
It makes perfect sense to heat with wood. We get to harvest from within a 10-mile radius of our home. We remove wood from the national forest, from fire-suppressed choked stands full of dead standing and dead downed lodgepole pine. We remove juniper, a species that is taking full advantage of fire suppression, encroaching our stream banks, our sagebrush, and our aspen groves. This is forest restoration at it’s most sustainable. Hauling, stacking, splitting and burning this wood is a community effort at healing our historically neglected and mistreated landscape. This work, though dirty, time intensive and hard, is healing me too. Both these forests and the most precious person in my life face long arduous roads to recovery, and I want to be my best for both. So I place another round on the stump and measure.