Two weeks ago, my husband Zack, his mother Mary, and I spent a half day cutting out two trees that had fallen in the last year. One not only snapped off about ten feet up, but it rested precariously on its neighbor. The large trunk was partially split and I knew it might be trouble. Even Zack called it a "widow-maker" which did not reassure me that all would go well.
Zack evaluates a widowmaker.
Watching Zack make those first careful cuts with the chainsaw, I wished his grandfather still lived so he could see my husband put the tree down right where he wanted it. Perhaps it's in Zack's blood. His Grandpa Mac logged back in the days when even the biggest trees were cut by hand using enormous crosscut saws that required a man on either end. That was here in big tree country, too, mostly in coastal redwoods. The family stories that have been passed on from one generation to the next tell that one of those trees was so enormous that after it was down, they used the low, flat stump as a dance floor.
While Zack manned the saw, Mary and I hauled brush to a pile that by noon ran 12 to 15 feet long and rose above our heads. We also gathered the rounds together, so heavy we rolled most of them, thick slices of the large trunks that would dry there for the winter to be split next year. My late father-in-law once told me that wood heat is best… "It heats you when you cut it, load it, stack it, carry it in, and last of all, when you burn it." He was certainly right about that — within minutes, we were pulling off our jackets.
When I first came to live here, we used axes, splitting mauls, and wedges to split our firewood, several hard days' work for our rather motley crew. Now we use a hydraulic splitter, sometimes rented, or thanks to a neighbor's generosity. In one day we'll be able to split the oak rounds that we cut last year, more cords than we need all year.
Visitors to the farm often say, "Oh, it's so peaceful here … you're so lucky." They're right, though I call it blessed. Surrounded by such beauty — Alexander Valley far below, the sheep calling to one another in a nearby pasture, a mockingbird that warns us every time we get too close to its nest, heavy fog that rolls in breaking a week-long heat wave — vacationers often don't see that country life is filled with the rhythm of work. But in the 32 years since I arrived here, I've come to see that work — this work — has its own peace, a peace that reaches far deeper than a day spent idling in the sun, although certainly that can be nice, too.
That day in the woods, all did go well. Whenever my husband stopped to refill the gas or sharpen the saw chain, Mary and I would drop to the ground, ease our backs, and share a drink of water. Zack would join us for a few minutes, eat a cookie and chat. Then the chainsaw's sharp buzz would remind us to put opur earplugs back in and get back to it, gathering the wood that will keep us cozy in the months to come.