Brass bitter here on the south coast today – not a flake of snow but colder than any part of a witches anatomy. So today we chopped logs.
At La Croix Haute we ran our heating from a wood burning stove in the kitchen – my mum prided herself on priming and feeding and stoking it just so, so the heat would linger through the coldest night. We bought logs from Claude who would deliver and chunk and stack them with us, driving his tractor up the lane in his blue boiler suit and carpet slippers, a sweet little middle aged man who lived in one room next door to his mother on their tiny ramshackle farm. He taught me to use a coin – to place it just so and hit it so that the logs split neatly down the grain into manageable chunks that I could chainsaw into pieces to feed the hungry boiler. We’d stack the pieces head height against the wall of the huge old barn in the courtyard – chunks of solid oak well weathered under tarps in the higgeldy fields round about. The running joke was a cry of ‘good wood, good wood’ when we’d spot a particularly delicious pile on our travels, knowing that we always had good wood in the barn to come back to.
I don’t chop or saw wood any more – my husband hefts the axe and chops neat piles that are stacked against the house under a tarp. I miss those simple chores, having those skills, being the mistress of the wood pile. I remember how I once disturbed the owl when chopping logs and watched it glide through the barn towards me, a ghost of a bird against the weathered oak A frame. How I could strip down and clean and oil a chainsaw. How it was good to stand ankle deep in saw dust as the pile of logs grew.
Desk work makes you bloated – you lose contact with a proper, realer world of craft and skills. I’m itching to get back those skills, to return to that way of life when I was mistress of the logpile and of my own destiny.