Observations from the Woodpile” is a collection of essays bundled together and given as a birthday present for my wife, Nancy, in 1997. Twenty-seven years have passed since the collection was given. The two main subjects of the essays, my sons Justus and Jacob, have grown into men with families of their own.

Wouldn’t It Be Great to Have a Hydraulic Wood Splitter

Hardly a wood-splitting day went by that the chorus of “Wouldn’t it be great to have a hydraulic wood splitter?” was not sung. And, like an Italian opera, came the consistent reply, “Why would I buy a hydraulic wood splitter when I’ve got two wood splitters that I don’t have to buy or pay for?”

It has not escaped the notice of Justus and Jacob that wood stoves are a rather archaic means of heating a house. It’s an awful lot of work that the rest of the civilized world is missing out on.

To provide a little incentive, I tell my boys—who are both avid baseball players—that Mickey Mantle grew up on a farm in Oklahoma where he had to split wood.* Of course, the inferred conclusion is that swinging a splitting maul will improve the odds of hitting homeruns. Splitting wood is basically the same motion as swinging a bat, only a bat is much lighter.

Ah…the key to successful parenting: treachery. 

To my surprise and delight, Justus, the older one, hit seven round-trippers this past season. Maybe there is some merit to that Mantle stuff, after all.

The value of homeruns and physical strength is all well and good. Athletic prowess has a certain currency amongst growing boys.   There is another benefit to this kind of brutish work that I hope they’ll be able to comprehend someday:  There is a satisfaction found in few other places more profound than accomplishment. 

That feeling of satisfaction comes at many levels during the life of the woodpile. There’s the big satisfaction of seeing it all done, but there are little triumphs along the way. When the maul finally elicits that sound of wood fiber reluctantly separating in a particularly tough piece, there is a small, but definite, feeling of mastery. I hear the satisfaction in the boys’ voices whenever they tell their buddies how hard their “Old Man” works them. Martyrdom is very important to growing boys.

When the heart of winter is upon us and the work ceases because the logs freeze together, there is a no better feeling than the warmth of the stoves.  That feeling of security is precisely what I want the boys to feel, and I want them to know they contributed to the welfare of the family. There is a purpose beyond themselves in their work.

I suppose there is nothing worse than living with no other purpose than oneself. I am convinced all kids need to see themselves as integral, contributing members of a family, of society, of something larger than themselves. They need to be assigned a purpose.

I won’t be buying a log splitter for several years yet. Not until the boys are grown and gone. I have a different purpose in mind.

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