Like any civilized person in 21st century America, I have no use for a fireplace. I push a button on the wall and my house gets warm. Bam, technology. No sweeping the chimney, no cleaning up ash, and certainly no splitting of firewood. Yes, I was living the high life of modernity until last weekend. You see, my girlfriend Jenny’s parents live in rural northern Idaho. Barbarians that they are, they rely entirely on their fireplace to keep them from freezing to death in the winter. As luck would have it, old man Frank (her Dad) threw out his hip saving some kids from a river or something. Now he’s barely able to walk, let alone chop the pile of logs that were to become their source of warmth for the season. So with winter approaching and an un-split pile of wood spelling out their almost certain chilly doom, it’s Kevin Harper to the rescue, apparently.
Yup, that’s me all right.
I tried to tell Jenny that I was too busy with work, but she played the “my parents will die in slow, freezing agony” card and I relented. We booked a flight a few days out and began packing our warm clothes. I also realized that I had never even held a piece of firewood, let alone chopped one! But sixteen hours of Google searches and Wikipedia pages later, I felt like I had a good idea of the process. Now all I needed was an axe.
Bad Axe is a company based out of an undisclosed location which specializes in selling the exact thing their terrible pun of a name implies: Awesome axes. At least, that’s what they claim. I didn’t have much time to do any real fact checking, so I made a slight impulse buy here. I did skim through the user reviews though, and they mostly seemed positive. The only one star review was some lady spewing something about demonic possession, but I dismissed that pretty quickly. After a prompt overnight shipping (bonus points there), I had just enough time to throw the axe in with the rest of my things and we were off.
We had a spot of trouble trying to get through airport security with my axe as a carry-on (nothing a quick flash of my RotM badge couldn’t get us through!), then a four hour plane ride, and finally another hour driving time before we finally made it to Jenny’s parents’ house. We pulled in under the shade of the giant oak tree that towered above the house. Frank and Luann came out to greet us with all of the bustle you would expect. I’ve always gotten along well with Jenny’s parents, but I still feel the need to impress her dad as much as possible. Thus I got out of the car with the axe in hand, hoping to show my eagerness for the task ahead.
“Hey Frank!” I said, striding up to him. “Ready to get choppin’?”
Frank leaned on his cane and smiled. “Ha ha, please Kevin, you know better by now! Call me ‘Dad!’”
We laughed, and then all made small talk for a while as we unpacked our things. Eventually, Frank walked me over to the wood pile. It was definitely a big one, with several large trees mixed up in there. Frank had already sawed them into rounds, so what I needed to do was split those rounds into smaller, manageable chunks and stack them in the wood shed.
Outwardly, I expressed my enthusiasm for the affair, but inside I was seething. Damn barbarians. Why not just get a gas or electrical heater like everyone else? Then maybe I wouldn’t have to be dragged halfway across the country to help get you your stupid caveman heat.
Still, I remained chipper, and after some more small talk, Frank left me to it. He hobbled inside and I stood, the giant pile of wood waiting for me to make my move.
I held the axe in both hands and really looked my new tool over for the first time. It looked a little worn for a supposedly new axe, but the reps at Bad Axe assured me that it made for a far superior product. Holding it, I guess I could kind of see that. I do have to admit, it felt really nice. I felt like I stood a little taller, a little more powerful, with it in my hands.
I turned to the pile, took a deep breath, and started swinging.
The process was tedious. You can read about something on the internet all you want, yet still have no idea what you’re doing. Swinging the axe was way harder than I thought, and the repetitive motion of it just killed my arms. Not to mention all the times it would hit the wood and glance off, or I would just miss entirely. Overall, it was a rather frustrating affair.
I only chopped maybe five logs that day. Most of the pieces I made were either too big, too small, or just generally misshapen to be of any real use. I tossed the axe down in a huff and went inside. Frank didn’t say anything, but I knew he was judging me. I didn’t say much the rest of the evening, my pride having taken a beating. But as I went to bed, I resolved that I was going to get a hold of this thing. After all, I like Jenny, and if I can’t even do this simple thing for her parents, then what does that say about me?
Nope, it had to be done. Tomorrow I would grab that stupid axe and show it who was boss.
* * *
I felt like I got the hang of it over the next couple days. The more rounds I split, the better I felt about the process. After my resentment died down, I found that the axe worked really well. It was a good, solid tool, and my initial city-boy disdain for it was certainly unwarranted. We were getting along just fine, now. I had a good speed going, and the wood in the shed was piling up, all regular and even chunks. I felt my self esteem creeping back.
Jenny and Luann came over and told me to take a rest. I fended them off with a smile. I was just starting to get the hang of this, even enjoy it. There was no way I would stop now.
I ended up getting a pretty good chunk of the pile split before they finally managed to drag me away for dinner. Afterwards we sat around and made jovial conversation and then drifted off to bed. I climbed under the covers with Jenny. She took hold of my blistered hands and expressed concern. I assured her that I was fine, that this was just part of me being a rugged mountain man now. She laughed and hugged me.
“Thanks for doing this Kevin.”
“You know, I’ll be honest, at first I was really dreading it. Now, I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be. This has been fun.”
She smiled and kissed me on the nose. “You’re a sweetie!”
She snuggled against me and drifted off to sleep. I lay awake for a while longer. I thought about splitting wood. There was an ache in my arms, but a good ache. I felt alive. I realized that I was actually looking forward to splitting tomorrow. Swinging the axe. Ah, that good ‘ole axe. It really was a wonderful thing. I fell asleep with a smile on my face and thoughts of the axe in my head.
* * *
I finished the pile the by the middle of the following afternoon. Frank said he couldn’t believe it. It would have taken him a week to chop half of it, he said. He hobbled out and clapped me on the back and called me “Son.” That should have made me feel proud, but it didn’t. All I could feel was a gnawing disappointment that there was nothing left to split. I wanted to chop more wood. I wanted to swing the axe forever. It felt so good in my hands. So right.
“You can set the axe down, Kev,” Frank said. “Let’s go inside and have a drink. You’ve certainly earned it!”
“What about all those scraggly trees out back?” I said, pointing with the axe. “Why don’t we take those down and chop them up as well?”
Frank look surprised. “Well that was a project I was gonna save until next year. And the wood shed is about full now. But hell, I guess if you really wanted to…”
“I do,” I said and set off into the trees.
“Wait, Kevin!” he called after me. “I didn’t mean right now! Come rest up for a minute!”
I waved him off. There was chopping to be done.
* * *
Dinner was tense that evening. Nobody spoke much, but I felt their eyes flicking over me. I didn’t eat. Wasn’t hungry. All I needed was my axe, and it rested against my side. I stared straight ahead, imagining the feel of the axe in my hands. The reverberation through my arms as it struck a piece of wood.
I excused myself and went outside to finish chopping up the trees I had taken down earlier. It was growing dark outside, but I didn’t care. All I wanted was to split.
By the time I finished chopping and stacking the wood, it was well into nighttime. I came inside and found that everyone else was in bed. I washed the caked blood from my hands, stripped off my clothes, and climbed into bed beside Jenny. The axe was still in my grasp. I laid it between us. Ran my hand across it.
Jenny woke up and pitched a fit about the axe being in bed with us. I defended it viciously. Told her the axe is what keeps us warm. The axe is saving her parents’ lives. All of our lives. We owed the axe everything. Could she not see that?
Eventually she gave up arguing and left the room with a single blanket and pillow tucked beneath her arm. Slept on the couch in her parent’s house while the Axe and I shared the bed. I looked at its shimmering head. Its lovingly worn handle. Jenny just didn’t understand. None of them did.
* * *
Everyone came running out of the house in their pajamas after they heard the great crash. The giant oak lay in the driveway, felled by me and my mighty axe. Frank yelled at me as I stood there with Axe over my shoulder. Told me that was an eighty-year-old tree that his father had planted as a sapling, all those years ago. He’d watched that tree grow over his entire life. I told him that beggars can’t be choosers, and if he wanted me to split wood then I was going to split some wood. There was a lot of yelling and shouting but no one came near me. Maybe it was the way I was standing with Axe. Feeling the power of it in my hands.
Eventually, everyone went back into the house. I began chopping.
* * *
Nobody talked to me the next morning. They all spoke to each other though. Whispering. Asking each other how I did it. How I split the entire giant tree up in just a couple hours. How it was all stacked, overflowing out of the woodshed now. But they never approached me. Never asked me how I did it. I think it’s because they know. They know how I cut it all up. They see me. See Axe. Know what a team we make. We are unstoppable, Axe and I. They are afraid of us. Jealous.
They are all inside now. I just realized that. I try to go in through the front door but it’s locked. I knock on the door, but no answer. But I can hear them in there. Their soft hissing tones. I can hear the phone being dialed, someone- Jenny- speaking into it with furtive urgency. I shout in at them, see her recoil from the window. I see the look on her face. The angle of her eyebrows and the associated lines drawn across her skin. I feel her expression should mean more to me than it does. But it just washes over me. Her face is alien. I get angry.
I pound my hand on the door. Feel the wood against my fingers. Stop pounding. Run my fingers across the grain of the door. Wood. Wood to split. Axe comes up, as if by himself. We know what to do. I swing and I hear a scream inside and Jenny drops the phone. We make a great team, Axe and I.
* * *
I have a deadline. Review needs to be posted. I use Frank’s computer. Make review. Ten out of ten. Type with one finger. All the others are wrapped around Axe. It all seems so blurry. So muddled. The words run together on the page. Color seems to be slipping from my grasp. Only Axe, in its glory, is beautiful and shining and crisp and clean. If only everything was like Axe.
Still no one will talk to me. If I post this review maybe they will see it. Understand what I see in Axe. Gasp in its splendor. Know it is not so bad. Jenny. Jenny has her phone. She’s been on it the whole time, yelling to somebody. Hope she will go online. Read my review first thing when it posts. Like she says she always does. Like she promises. She wouldn’t lie to me, would she?
Jenny. Jenny if you can read this, come out. Come out of the bathroom. Just want to talk. We just want to talk Jenny. Axe will behave. I promise. Axe is pretty savvy in social situations. He’s a sharp guy. Truly. So very sharp indeed. You’ll see. Come out, Jenny.
* * *
Swing. Chop. Thud. Cut. Maul. Smash. Axe.
Axe cut. Axe cut trees. All trees. Wood split. Fire eat wood. Firewood. Burn. All burn. Axe win.
No hide. Axe know. Find. Hate. Chop. Sharp. Axe go deep. Cut Dad. Taste blood. Split all. Know all.
Jenny mad. Axe happy.
All is good.
(Superman Image Credit)