Just Fine, Too

The boys have been pounding ash for pack baskets
The boys have been pounding ash for pack baskets

Yesterday afternoon I fled my desk around 3:00 and bee-lined for the sawmill. I’ve had my eye on the mill for the past couple of weeks; it’d been at least a month since I’d sawn any lumber, and we’d ‘bout polished off our stash. This place has an insatiable thirst for lumber: For fences, for outbuildings, for the boys to make some ridiculous contraption having to do with some ridiculous game. I stumble across these contraptions all the time – most recently, a pretend guillotine for a fantasy in which Rye had captured Fin’s alter-ego, Dubbins, and was threatening to behead him if he didn’t behave – and while part of me chafes at the sheer volume of these devices, at all the nails and screws and boards that are sacrificed to my sons’ play, a greater part of me is merely grateful that I’m not tripping over the ubiquitous plastic shit that fills most children’s lives these days. Wow, that sounded curmudgeonly. I’m gonna have to try that more often.

Anyway. The mill. And the woodshed, which has a roof (arguably the most important part of a woodshed, I grant you that) but no siding. I have a nice pile of balsam logs from last winter’s exploits, some of which, I knew, would net me 12-inch boards or better. Have you ever lifted a fresh sawn 1 x 12 board off the top of a log you pulled from the forest yourself? Maybe, but my guess is not, and while it’s different strokes for different folks, I’m betting most of ya’ll would feel the same thing I feel when such a thing happens to me. Which, if it were expressed in words, would be hell, yes. To me, the sawmill is one of those tools that despite its noise and fury plainly illustrates the connective thread that runs through all our lives and ties us to the natural world. Forest. Tree. Lumber. Shelter. I like seeing that thread illustrated. I like following it from one end to the other just to see where it leads me.

In any event, I spent a half hour or so dinking with the mill. The hydraulic jack that adjusts blade tension was low on oil and the jack would not hold pressure, so I unbolted it and filled it with fluid. The line that feeds a stream of water onto the blade to cool and clean it during sawing was plugged with sawdust, so I removed it and poked a wire into it until it was clear. And then there was the simple remembering of all the levers and wheels and whatnot; there are numerous adjustments to be made with each and every turn of the log, and after a half-dozen weeks of not making these adjustments, I felt clunky at the controls, pausing after each pass for a second or two, unsure of precisely what I was supposed to do next. But after a few boards came off the mill, I was back in the groove, and I had the feeling of playing an instrument, albeit one that produces only a single, long note and is capable of removing a leg.

By 7:20 or so, with daylight waning fast, I nailed the last board to the north-facing side of the woodshed. It would’ve gone a little quicker, but I was using a bunch of nails I’d pulled from one of the boys’ long-forgotten contraptions, and most of them required a bit of straightening. The other sides of the shed, I suspect, will have to wait until next year or until I get to them, whichever comes first (my money’s on the former). The list of tasks separating us from winter is probably longer than the accumulation of waking hours separating us from winter can accommodate, though I suspect we’ll make it even out somehow. We always do.

And if we don’t? Well, that’ll be just fine, too.

6 thoughts on “Just Fine, Too”

  1. This sawmill operation scares the crap out of me I pray your legs (and all the rest of you) stay fully attached to your body. Nice going!

  2. “Playing an instrument, albeit one that produces a single long note and is capable of removing a leg.” Love it! Thanks for a laugh to get my morning going.
    We’re spending lots of time right now collecting fallen branches and logs for a new hugelkultur so I appreciate the idea of where the inhabitants of the forest can end up and our relationship to them.

  3. Ben – Just discovered your blogs a couple weeks ago, and have now gotten through all of them. I totally love them and have forwarded some to many of my colleagues. I am an old organic farmer about as far from Northern Vermont as you can get – the parched prairies of Nebraska – but we share an amazing number of similar experiences. Difference is that you write well about your experience and I keep saying to myself that I really ought to write down some anecdotes for my kids, grandkids and great grandkids, but never seem to get around to it. Keep up the good work – I check my inbox for your stuff every morning at 5:00, just after I check the weather forecast. Thanks again!

    PS: The first organic farm I worked on was in Bondville, VT, in the late 60s/early 70s. Probably before you were born.

  4. Good stuff. I’m continually jealous. I’m gelatinous jelly spread on envy toast.
    So we’ve got 2 companies that I’m proud of in Indiana (there may be more).
    DIXIE CHOPPER (can’t afford) &
    WOODMIZER (can’t afford)

  5. I love the “flow” of your words and how you segué into a sidetrack and then back to the main stream. Sort of sounds like a conversation.

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