Tuesday, September 20, 2011

FIREWOOD AND REVERY





This is something I promised I would never do, and then I did it once before. I have been immersed in a writing project and have little left at the end of the day. Like they say in sports, you leave it all on the field. But I know people check so, I am posting an older short story that has never been published, just for the entertainment value, and so you won't forget me. Take three days to read it in parts. I will be back. And just for the information value, this fancy new Mac only adds to the creative process in the sense that the work looks better on a larger brighter screen. As far as more intelligent prose it is more like an enlarging mirror or a flat screen HD TV.... all the blemishes are magnified. So it goes.

And some music to listen to while you read. There's a connection.




Copyright © 2011 by Tim Jones

He swung the maul between slices of developing fantasy. "Been on this hill too long," he muttered aloud to the trees, took another cut and then let himself drift into the other world. The combination intoxicated, mellowed the anxiety that drove him to the wood pile. He picked up a new section of birch cut for the length of the stove, set it on the block and lashed at it, but the heavy maul bit only slightly and then bounced away, twisting his arms and shoulders. The birch fell off the block, then the block itself, another larger section of birch, fell over from the glancing blow. He righted the block, set the resilient victim back in place and took another, this time more vicious swing. The wood parted into two equal sized quarters, but the bark on the side away from him held, leaving a hinged clamshell of birch, an open book of firewood facing him. He picked up the book, gripped
each half and ripped them apart. Laughed. "That the way you do it?" A voice intruded. One of those moments: If someone had walked up just then: "Don't hit 'em with a axe, just rip 'em apart."
"Yeah!" he shouted to the crowd, a showman professional wrestler growling at his fans. He tossed the two pieces toward the pile where he would stack them neatly later. How come no one was ever around when the time was right? He hunched a thick birch section onto the block.
"Hello," a voice called, too thin for a man, but husky enough to be there in the woods. "Hello."
A figure moved along the trail toward where it turned and began the climb uphill to the cabin. He reached for the maul. And watched the trail below. The figure, bent under the weight of a backpack, walked with the assurance of physical confidence, the hesitence of unfamiliar personal ground.
"Hello." Again. He swung the maul. This time the voice came from part way up the hill. He was aware now, the hint of a smile crossed his face ending in an upward curl at one corner of his mouth. He retrieved one of the split halves and set it on the block for another lick.
The figure continued climbing, approaching. Not much of a swing for half a section, just let the maul drop, always try to leave both halves still standing on the block. "Hello." The voice softer now, closer. The maul dropped, caromed to the side sending a splinter shooting off into the snow and leaving the remainder to teeter, then fall off the stump. Recognition. And, from how long ago?
"Hello. Are you Tom Compton?" The breath coming tough, a good hill up to the cabin, but not too tough, somebody in reasonable shape. Now he was sure. She looked the same, hadn't changed in how long, ten, no, closer to twenty years. But why the question about who he was. The curl at the corner of his mouth broadened into a full smile. Sweet Judy Blue Eyes. Warmth in welcome, recognition, recollection. Even more warmth than the work made. Thoreau was a fraud. He had the woods but he never did the work. He cheated. Wood warms you twice, he had written, once when you chopped it, once when you burned it.
It was obvious. Thoreau had his wood delivered already cut. Thoreau never cut the trees down (once). He never hauled the wood from where it fell to his cabin (twice). He did split, that was his once (three times). Obviously he didn't go through the hauling and stacking for a year ahead of time (four). But he did burn it. Don't they all. That's five at least and not counting any extra ones like the day the sled broke loose and took off down the hill spilling its logs one by one in the deep snow and alder. And then there was that other warmth, the one that came from the hours at the chopping block. Sweet Judy Blue Eyes.
He set the other half of the birch on the block. What would she be doing here. God, college. How long ago? How could she have found him?
"I came to find you. Are you Tom? Down the trail they said this was how to get to your place." She looked the same, always the hint of mirth in her round blue eyes. Did he? Of course not. "From school I knew to look in Anchorage. At the paper I met a guy who knows you. He told me where you live. I didn't know how to let you know I was coming."
Raise the maul. Drop it with power behind it and feel the reassuring shudder of resistance through the arms as metal meets wood. Square, equal portions fell off the block. Still hadn't left two standing there. That would have to be Morgan. The only one left there who knew where he was. He wondered what his friend thought when this beautiful, outdoorsy looking coed walked in asking for him. Probably smiled. Got really cordial and friendly. Sucked a cigarette. Too honest, too moral to try for himself. Just told her where and how.
He hoisted another section to the block. Why would she come? What would cause this woman, twenty years after the bitter disappointment to hunt him down somewhere in the wilds of Alaska? Raise the maul, let it drop; another bounce. Damn, you gotta mean it. At least it hadn't fallen. Raised and dropped again, this time with some muscle behind it. The section split. They'd dreamed of a life that involved mountains and clear streams, a clean, pure life together.
A snowmachine snarled past on the main trail far below, the pitch of the engine noise rising and lowering as the driver feathered the machine over the jarring bumps and moguls in the trail. Why come and find him? Now? From where? The last he knew he'd been told she married a rodeo cowboy, happy and heading for the Rockies.
He took one of the halves and set it on the block, but the original chainsaw cut had been angled and the wood tipped over into the snow. He retrieved it, turned it on the stump until it balanced tenuously. Hate those where you've got to swing quickly before it falls off again.
"You found it. What we talked about. A cabin here. The mountains. You're splitting wood to keep warm." The half stood for a split second and he swung. Ouick. Another glancing blow as it fell. Another splinter. And in front of an audience, just when you wanted to do it right.
"I heard you might have found it. I wanted to see." He picked up the larger piece of the splintered half. Spirit soaring. Beauty returning.
Time came for a change, a break. He walked over to the jumble where he'd been throwing the split pieces and started stacking them. Leave air. It had to season for a year, no moisture caught in little pockets. The air had to circulate. Stack carefully. He didn't want it to fall out from under the house into the summer rain or the early fall snow. She's here. Time to share that dream we started so long ago. And she came on such a long shot, such a chance. What a chance to take at such a distance in time and miles. He placed the last piece of wood on the stack and returned to the maul and the block and the unsplit birch.
"Hello, are you Tom?
Why? How? It didn't seem real. He swung at a huge section. It gave, cracked, but didn't split. Another shot. This time one side fell, the other went shooting down the hill into deeper snow, over-the-boot, sock-soaking deep snow.
"I'm trying to write a book." He slogged downhill to his knees, then mid thighs in the snow to retrieve the errant birch. This could work.
"I want to find the men I've loved and talk with them. Write vignettes. Renew the friendships that the loves came from. I think I can make a point; I can come up with something younger people could understand."
He slogged uphill through the deep snow, a swimmer with his arms wrapped around dead weight, falling, rising, bringing the heavy wood back to the block.
But she loses it. She realizes the dream we'd had in those piles of leaves so many years ago is here, now, and all those things we talked about, half knowing they couldn't happen, really did happen only she wasn't here. And now, despite all that, she's welcome. And open to that welcome. Here it is. All we wanted. Now. It exists. "You really count me among the people you loved?" Aloud. But the wrestling fans in the woods didn't respond to that kind of emotion.
He floundered up to the chopping block and set the heavy split on it. He swung the maul, this time to the audience he wanted, an appreciation he looked for. This time somebody was watching, somebody he wanted to know that this was perfection. This was the life. We're here. We can. The section split perfectly, falling off the block in even pieces. He retrieved them and tossed each toward the stack. He looked around for more, even kicked at loose snow but that had been the last one. Nothing was left to split. Empty.
"My God. I told her I didn't believe in love." The fans in the trees remained silent. A dumb Friday afternoon college beer hall argument. But he'd said it and she'd believed and ran out of the place. "I told her I didn't believe in love."
He stacked what was left of the wood he'd split, then walked into the cabin, opened the stove, stirred the coals and added wood. He dragged a cardboard box toward his chair, the box that held the memories, the photographs, the poems of life until then. In the last of the evening he reached for the whiskey bottle where he hoped he would be able to rekindle what had been... and what never had been. But whiskey doesn't warm a man like wood does. Even Thoreau knew that.

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Interesting quotations

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeare on Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

Everything is okay when it’s 50-below as long as everything is okay. – an Alaskan in Tom Walker’s “The Seventymile Kid”

You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own science.—commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming

He looks at three ex wives as a good start—TV police drama

Talkeetna: A friendly little drinking town with a climbing problem.—a handmade bumper sticker

“You’re either into the wall or into the show”—Marco Andretti on giving it all to qualify last at the 2011 Indy 500

Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

"Now that you're in the finals you have to run the race that's going to get you on the podium."

"It's very important for both sides that they stay on their feet."

This is why you get to hate sportscasters. Kansas beats Texas for the first time since 1938. So the pundits open their segment with the question "let's talk about what went wrong." Wrong? Kansas WON a football game! That's what went RIGHT!

"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

"It's tough to win on the road when you turn the ball over." Oh, really? Like you can do all right if you turn the ball over playing at home?

Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

"Atlanta is capable of doing what they're doing."

"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

"You can't come out and be aggressive but you can't come out and be unaggressive."

"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

"First you have to get two strikes on the hitter before you get the strikeout."

"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

Best headlines ever

Sister hits moose on way to visit sister who hit moose.

Man loses his testicles after attempting to smoke weed through a SCUBA tank

Church Mutual Insurance won't cover Church's flood damage because it's 'an act of God'

Homicide victims rarely talk to police

Meerkat Expert Attacked Monkey Handler Over Love Affair With Llama Keeper

GOP congressman opposes gun control because gay marriage leads to bestiality

Owner of killer bear chokes to death on sex toy

Support for legalizing pot hits all-time high

Give me all your money or my penguin will explode

How zombie worms have sex in whale bones

Crocodile steals zoo worker's lawn mower

Woman shot by oven while trying to cook waffles

Nude beach blowjob jet ski fight leads to wife's death

Woman stabs husband with squirrel for not buying beer Christmas Eve