The Books and Writings of
Kurt R.A. Giambastiani

  Chopping Wood
by Kurt R.A. Giambastiani

I'd like to talk to you guys for a minute, but not all of you. Those of you who are on the run from the FBI in the woods of North Carolina, or who live in some neo-anarchistic quasi-utopian freehold in the wilds of Montana, you can skip this chapter. I'm talking to that breed of man; that suburban creature that roams the malls and streets near town; that poor, politically-correct, unduly-berated guy who can't figure how to get out of seeing the latest chickflick sobfest over the holiday weekend. Yeah, you know who you are, and I want to talk to you, because I know about something that can help you.

I want to talk to you about wood. Specifically, chopping wood. You, my friend, have got to get out there and chop some wood. Now let me tell you why.

Chopping wood is a godsend to us gentrified, overly-urbanized males. It is a wonder of contradictions that we can still embrace and call our own. Oh, sure, there are women out there who chop wood, and to them I say great, go for it, but the task of chopping wood holds something for us males--and says something to us--that women just cannot hear. It's something that whispers to our souls, but we've got to get out there where it can do us some good.

Think about it. Chopping wood is the only task left to us the entire point of which is to make a mess. When you're done--if you've done it correctly--you're sweaty, tired, and surrounded by the shards and splinters of your labors. It is both innately destructive and intrinsically constructive. It breaks down while it builds up. It is a treasure of chaos in the pursuit of order. These things speak to the ravening hunter-mentality that lies buried beneath our layers of civilization.

To chop wood is to have permission to embrace the danger. It is a license to go out, and with sharp, long-handled, heavy-headed tools, wreak havoc upon the innocent. You know it's dangerous. Every time you go out to do it, your mate tells you so, heaping you with admonitions against chopping off a toe--the adult male's equivalent of "You'll shoot your eye out." Such warnings do not accompany lawn-mowing or light-bulb-changing. They only come with something that is inherently hazardous. Embrace this danger, challenge yourself: mind, body, and soul. Use it to assert your manliness, or to get in touch with your inner child, if you must (though my childhood memories are filled with my attempts at being "manly" and "adult" so I guess it's just a matter of perspective).

About ten years ago I borrowed a maul from my neighbor--and any tool called a maul is immediately an extension of the male psyche. It was a special maul, designed for the splitting of wood. It was a remarkable tool with springs and levers, but which was simple in its application of basic forces. It worked so well that, when we moved away the year after, I went in search of one of my own only to find that they were not to be had in my area. Perhaps they were deemed too dangerous--another vote in its favor--or, more likely, they simply didn't sell well enough in my next-to-metropolitan borough.

This year while hunting through an antique mall--my wife wanders through such places; I hunt in them, rooting around in corners and barrels and boxes, rifling through stacks of papers and books, hunting for that special find, that extraordinary oddity--I came across a bin out of the top of which protruded a collection of hickory handles. Some were straight, some were crooked, but they all had that sense of age and purpose to them, and they called to me.

I pawed through the pile, pulling out tool after tool. I pulled out old axes, rusty mattocks, and huge sledges until I found it. It looked mean. It was designed to inflict damage. It was perfect.

It has a long straight handle, flared at the end to assist in your grip as you swing with a full extension of your arms. It has a heavy, six-pound head with a double-edged (hence the straight as opposed to hooked or crook'd handle). One edge was straight and wedge-shaped--not the thin, killing blade of an axe, but the thick edge of a cracking maul. The other edge was like the first, but it had small spring-loaded levers embedded in it. These are designed so that, as the maul travels downward into the wood, the wood itself presses against the levers. The levers, in turn, push out against the wood, thus splitting it. But the best part was the name that was embossed on the head: The Great Divider. This was a tool that was unafraid to be offensive. Its purpose was destruction and mayhem and, for $15, it was a steal.

I got to use it yesterday. Out in the snow, The Great Divider and I applied some physics to a quarter cord of unsplit rounds I had stacked out back. It was twenty degrees out there, and within minutes I was warm and at one with my work.

Chopping wood is a primal task, the simple application of brute force, and yet it can be artistic as well--in how evenly the round is split, in the ballet created as you balance the wood precariously on the block and then step back, plant your foot, and swing before it teeters and falls over. It can even be urbane, if you wish, by wearing your L.L. Bean or Eddie Bauer polar-tech fleece instead of simple denim and flannel.

So by all means go out and do it. Chop some wood. Pound it down from rounds to kindling and then, when you're done, take the result of all your toils inside and set fire to it. The ultimate destruction. And what a joy that is.


All contents ©2001-2010 Kurt R.A. Giambastiani