March 24, 2019 — This morning the temperature was balmy and the breeze light. Bird songs, absent for months, could be heard once again. Snow is melting, and spring is definitely on its way. One can even smell the resins of the trees as they begin to come back to life. I feel truly blessed.
For a long while I stood outside in the yard, silent, head bowed.
Janine came out and gently stroked my arm. “What’cha doing?” she asked softly, trying to mask the concern in her voice. She often has that tone when trying to figure out what I’m doing.
“Reflecting,” I said.
“Springtime is a good time for reflecting,” she said, relieved.
“Yup, I can see myself in this puddle.”
She’s right though. Springtime is a good time for reflection. We assess the winter and make plans for summer. The world seems full of promise and we want to take advantage of the opportunity and take stock of our personal situation.
This year a lot of people are talking about age for some reason, which I don’t understand. By my math we all age one year every year and the older we get it’s a smaller percentage of the total so, less significant. Still people go on and on about age, the older they get.
Ever notice that? Young people all say they are 21 and have an ID to prove it. “Let’s see, no not that one, it’s here somewhere, oh here it is,” the fresh-faced teen shouts over the driving beat of the club music.
Middle-aged people all claim to be 39. My own dear mother (may she rest in peace) who would never fib about anything, was 39 until I was 45. Then, old people all brag about how old they are. The grounds keeper at the senior center shuffles in, claiming to be 112 but still claiming to feel “not a day over 40.” Ah, the mercy of a fading memory.
I read a post recently by a girl who turned 30 years old and is complaining about age related fatigue and memory lapses. 30 years! Shoot, I’ve procrastinated on tax returns almost that long.
“Honey,” I posted in reply, “I have wool socks older than you.”
Mitch, why do you keep old wool socks?
Well, dang it, because they’re MY wool socks, that’s why
Many reflect on their lives this time of year and how to make them better. I realize some people do this on New Year’s Eve, but I think that’s because all the drinking that night gives them an excuse to forget the resolution by morning. Real reflection happens in the springtime, at least up here in the north country.
I’m here to tell you though, too much reflection isn’t good, especially as we age. Why challenge things that have been working just fine all this time?
You know what I mean. Some things just defy logic and physics and keep on working year after year. Like Alaska Congressman Don Young, the oldest lawmaker since Methuselah. No seriously, like my plow truck. It’s so used to the oil it has in it my crew are all afraid to upset the equilibrium by changing it. Or my gear shed. My contractor friend says it’s only still standing out of habit. He wants to rebuild it, at $50 an hour. No kidding! And no thanks, why interfere with a good thing?
Another good example: I burn wood for heat. Done it my whole life. Our house is big and drafty, and I am well aware the oil furnace actually heats the house. Someone at Alaska Oil Sales is aware of this too and reminds me every month.
But I burn wood anyway. Chain saws last me well over a year, and most of my pickups are still in relatively good shape. Well, except that one, which managed to find itself parked in front of a Sitka spruce I was felling. But it’s a foreign model, not a Dodge Ram, so what does it know about Sitka spruce and the local custom of not getting hit by falling trees? My back is often strong enough to get out of bed without help within just a few days after cutting a load of wood, and mild to moderate interpersonal conflict is thought to strengthen family relationships. So, I burn wood.
Family relationships and clan culture are an important part of the northern hunter-gatherer tradition. For many years I had the help of my boys in the firewood gathering endeavor and the last one to enjoy this father-son bonding time is Conway, our youngest. Mingled with all the fun, Conway would sometimes balance our joy by pointing out that wood sold for $200 a cord and we would be better off selling it than burning it. And, he reasoned, the heat from the wood was less than the heat we’d get from $200 worth of oil.
“You might be right there, son,” I said in my supportive dad-voice. “But,” I continued, quoting my own dad, “He who burns wood is warmed twice.”
This, of course, refers to the body heat generated through the physical exertion involved in gathering firewood. Therefore, I explained aloud, “Wood is really worth $400 a cord to us.”
“Warmed twice?” Conway snorted. “Only twice? Besides when you burn it, which other time are you counting?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, in a still mostly-fatherly tone
Obviously stumped by my pithy comeback, he regained his composure and struggled on with his argument. “We fell and limb the trees, cut them to firewood length, pack the wood out through the devil’s club thorns to the truck, load the truck, then we dig the truck out of the mud hole on the way home.”
“Hmm.” I quipped.
I allowed my son to regain his composure after that zinger, so as not to hurt his self-confidence. He continued, “We unload the truck, we split the wood, stack it, daily pack it up the hill to the wood box on the porch, carry it into the house when the fire gets low, and chase the woodpile tarp across the yard every time the wind blows.”
Now, irritated I admit, I narrowed my eyes into an intimidating and piercing gaze.
“You look confused,” Conway stated flatly.
“Maybe you mean the second time you’re warmed is when you burn your arm-hair off putting the wood in the stove,” he added.
Obviously at a loss to continue his nonsensical line of reasoning he concluded with a plea for my fatherly wisdom. “Why on earth do we burn wood?”
My patience taxed, and no longer my usual jovial self, I refused to dignify that youthful and foolish question with a response, though I did point out one glaring flaw in his argument.
“I don’t have hairy arms.”
Since everyone seems to be in a reflective mood today – let’s consider this deep question — why do I burn wood? Well, duh! When I add up all those times I’m warmed by heating with wood it’s worth at least $1200 a cord, that’s why!
Top that, Alaska Oil Sales, with your 24-Hour-A-Day-Super-Convenient-Automatic-Keep-Full-Fuel-Delivery Plan!
Besides, dammit, I’ve always burned wood, that’s why.
Conway is now a successful pop musician and spends a lot of time in California.
What’s that, Honey? Take out the ashes and sweep up the mess around the woodstove?
Cha-ching! $1400 a cord!
Anyway, the now-depleted woodpile is just one of the things I’m reflecting on this fine spring day, but it’s one of the things that’s a constant in my life, and one of the things I can do something about. Life brings many adventures and challenges we can either smile at or cry about — our choice. I intend to experience them all to the fullest.
I could go get a load of wood today… But nah, I think I’ll hold off until next month, so Conway can enjoy that with me when he comes back to Alaska on a music tour. It’ll be a surprise. He will be so excited.