Stacking Apple Wood

So many of the earlier posts in this series celebrate bucolic pleasures; this year between the lines we feel the pressure of recession: harried relationships, hurried tasks, and for a few people horrid choices, especially around the animals Quan cares for. There are dozens of abandoned horses around the state and the shelters are filling with rabbits, cats, and dogs of people who are moving to find work or simply cannot afford to feed them any more. Of course times are tough all over, but the poorer regions of the poorer states see the effects more deeply. The lobster prices are down, so is tourism, and so is demand for paper pulp, so we can feel the contraction of the economic cling wrap around us Mainiacs, bringing us closer together but hampering our movement.

Though not immune, I am very lucky to still have work, and a sailboat for that matter. But somehow I have not been able to write of my summer sails – it seems frivolous. They were mostly up and down the river in any case, a repetitive and solitary pleasure when, afloat, I could steal a few hours from keeping the business and the place afloat. When I took it down to be stored for the winter before I left for overseas, the eagles I wrote about have left, and the islands are aflame with October leaves alive in the northern blue sea and sky. Tycha and I, a bonded unit with a single mind at the end of the season, make our sails blades to slice the substance of the wind, bringing her across the white chop ahead of the storm. I was shivering solidly as I rowed with clumsy hands ashore to the boatyard against the sere breeze for the final time.

While I was in Amsterdam, the leaves turned to patches of rust, and Quan and a friend cut down the old apple tree. I had not quite consented to this; I have quite a history with those two trees. At about 10 I tried to smoke corn silk under the one they cut, and first heard some dubious lore about sex (“No, my parents never ever did that!”). The second one held my treehouse, and that one I definitely vetoed – many a pirate battle, western last stand, and GI heroism had emanated from that simple box and ladders set in a crook overlooking the garden, and I am not ready to let it go. But with 50 years of growth, they were too much shade for the tomatoes, and the womenfolk wanted them down. The apples were only good for the horses anyway.

I guess we compromised with the one, as it was a bristling plug of firewood stacked against the stump when I came home. It takes a bout one tree each year to keep the fireplace and sauna going, so this year that’ll be this tree. Next year actually, because now comes the wood palaver – you want the newer wood in back to dry, and the older wood in front, but with a minimum of fuss. We created a new front row, and tucked the half-cord or so in behind. It’s an act of respect for the tree, almost fitting it together again with your hands in the stacking – square on square, and the round ones into the V’s.

The tree was centered in dry rot, and needed, I admit quietly as the truck empties and we sweep out the bark and the lichen, to come down. Some of the wood near the rot is already dry and goes on the front row. Apple burns hot, and is good to mix with other wood. This evening, we burn a few sticks to ward off the damp – such a cheery smell! This morning, with snow on the ground, it is hard to pack short-sleeved shirts for a week in Phoenix.

When I was 10 or 11, I remember as I look at the remaining tree with frosting on its remaining leaves, I came upon my little sister and her friend in that treehouse, with a brown golfball of a steaming turd laid on the rough pine floor, the girls’ 4-year old eyes wide with fear fighting with giggly pride. Though one part of me intuitively understood that this was normally exploratory, the other part – it was the 50’s – stood aghast. That part went and told my mother, who handled the situation with relative aplomb. But that I went and told has always been an act of which I was secretly ashamed – at my weak need to seek another authority than my own native common sense.

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