My youngest son makes his living as a builder. Often, trees must be felled to clear the construction site where he works. In the spring and summer, he hauls this wood back home to dry. Fall is the time for splitting and stacking and, recently, I joined him to help.
A small mountain of logs await us. We toil in the shade of a fir tree located next to his workshop. He wrangles the rounds into place and I operate the lever of the wood splitter. Our pile of splits grows quickly as we convert the bucked logs into size for the wood stove.
The greenest of the wood, a diseased pine, squishes as the wedge parts the still damp trunk. Centipedes and beetles scurry across our shoes, away from the hospitality of the rotted bark. The more seasoned fir, dry as a skeleton, pops apart cleanly from the hydraulic pressure.
We pace ourselves with the size of the splitter’s gas tank, working until the engine sputters to a stop. We relax in the shade, admiring our work and his property. He and his wife live at the bottom of a road that descends west from State 281. It crosses the tracks of the railroad and ends at a guardrail. Far below, the Hood River murmurs and whispers as it hurries away.
Kayakers park their cars here during the summer months. Come winter, the county snowplow turns around in the broad expanse of the dead end that includes my son’s driveway. His acreage peels off to the south and skirts the cliff of the river canyon. Eagles, hawks, and great blue herons ride the ravine’s air currents. Their voices mix with the hoots of owls and the lonely drone of train whistles.
We stack the wood into neat rows, building a fortress of heat against the inevitability of winter. When the splitter’s engine cools, we start again on the unworked wood. Several tanks and two Sundays later, all that remains is a pile of cedar to hand split for kindling.
I depart, heading for home in town. Freckles of scabs dot my legs and forearms. Dried blood streaks the skin, which is as thin as rice paper due to steroids I take for my cancer. Minor scrapes, which at one time would not have broken the skin, now tear it easily.
Nonetheless, the stability provided by these and other drugs protect me from worse consequences. I am healthy, healthy enough, at least, to assist with the rituals of rural living. The repetitive work of splitting and stacking firewood is, for me, a meditation on the cycles of the seasons of life. Winter is out there, coming our way, and we are ready.