Thursday, March 27, 2008

Axing lyrical

It had been a decade since I'd last wielded an axe. I feared I may have lost my touch.

When last it happened, I was (as Mr B put it) the mad woman living at the bottom of the garden. Someone else's garden. It was not a peaceful time, but I learnt many things -- how to tune a video (a redundant skill now, but one which has proved extensible), how to sleep in an empty house, how to wire a plug and change a lightbulb, how not to sleep with taxi drivers, how to live off Spar lager and Bombay Mix, how to find out who your friends are, how to run round empty hillsides at night, how to Save as Draft when you are pissed and send it in the morning (I learnt that one the hard way).

But most of all, and largely from necessity, I learnt how to chop wood. I was staying in a cottage with a wood burning stove, and it was freezing. I found out where to buy wood from, (the previously-blogged and still glorious Bagley Wood Sawmill) and pitched up there to load up Cherry the 2cv with the necessaries. 'It'll need chopping up,' said the woodsman, possibly recognising that I didn't know a combustible item from a hole in the ground. 'Yes, of course, thanks very much!' I said, and drove off at not-very-great speed.

Next I had to source something with which to chop. My landlady at the time was generous beyond the call of duty in many ways, and offered to purchase it for the property, so cost was not an issue. I didn't really know what I was doing (generally as well as specifically) and I ended up buying an industrial-quality splitting axe from a local tool hire centre.

This was possibly my first 'it's all about having the right tools' experience. The damn thing weighed a ton though, and initially I didn't have a clue what to do with it. I swung it dangerously around a few times, missed things, burst into tears and called my mum. One of the things I didn't know about her until then was that she knows what to do with an axe. She talked me through it over the phone, and I pulled myself together and went outside for another go.

I can still remember the feeling when the first log split. It took a while to properly get the hang of it, but I persevered, and over a few weeks I gradually worked out how to use the weight of the axe (that was a beautiful axe), lift and slide, keep knees soft, jump backwards to avoid crushed toes. I chopped in my US Army surplus combats and my fingerless gloves. I played loud Ani DiFranco out of the window as I was doing it. I chopped at night, when I'd been drinking and I shouldn't have been anywhere near sharp objects. I felt like Sarah Connor.

This was an-inbetween phase of my life though, and about three months later I said goodbye to the cottage, and the axe, and moved into the House On The Island, where another in-between phase of my life was to begin.

I have never had cause to chop wood since... this house has an open fire, but we rarely used it until this winter, and even then mostly used smokeless fuel (as this is a built up area, the Clean Air Act applies). But a) fuel prices have shot up and anyway we know we're running out of the stuff, b) the living room is the coldest room in the house, and c) smokeless fuel is both ineffectual and joyless. In the meantime, several people told me that it is ok to burn seasoned wood. I have tried to check the veracity of this, but like many regulatory type things it is almost impossible to get a straight answer to a straight question, so fuck it.

We bought a new axe before Christmas. It's not on a par with the last one, being a standard multipurpose axe, with a bit more of the felling than the splitting about it, but I liked the way it felt in my hands. I've only just made it back to the sawmill, having relied until recently on garden centre pre-chopped wood and reconstituted wood-style combustible material. We've also had nothing to chop *on*, but thanks to the recent storms and a chainsaw, Plumbing S was happy to part with a big slice of tree-trunk.

So finally, I had the axe, the wood, the chopping block, the freezing weather, the 10% hike in gas prices. And the final ingredient: the bad mood.

I was a little nervous. Would I remember what to do? Am I too old and feeble? Might I chop my toe off?

These days, I have safety boots, so I was able to mitigate the risk of the last, and I lined up my log, lined up my axe and let it fall.

The first log split on the third attempt, the rest mostly on the second, which, with a lighter axe, is pretty good going. I was delighted to find that my body remembered what to do, and, if anything, I am stronger than I was ten years ago, certainly more in control. As the third or fourth log smacked down and split cleanly down the middle, I laughed from the sheer pleasure of hitting things with other things for good reasons. We should all do more of this.


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Blogger tomato said...

oh that sounds so good right now. Please split a log for me sometime - I will be there in spirit.

10:27 am  
Blogger nuttycow said...

I've never split a log before. I have hacked one apart with a saw though. Does that make me cool?

10:00 am  
Blogger Jo said...

Tomato -- somehow this has a kind of resonance with a priest saying a mass for someone's soul: as a pre-adolescent pre-lapsed Catholic I used to listen to the list of these requests every Sunday and wonder how much you had to pay to have a mass dedicated to you. I still don't know, but logs are free. The next one's for you.

Nutty -- I am no arbiter of cool, I'm afraid. I'd say, whatever works for you...

11:18 pm  

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