It’s cold in New York this week. We’re having, as my brother would say, the kind of weather that makes a sneeze dangerous. To guard against the aforementioned flying icicles, we’ve turned on the pellet stove and piled our blankets six deep.
And in weather like this, I start to contemplate the difficulty of physical fitness. Nothing makes ones brain chemicals fire—and one’s hips fit into one’s future wedding gown—like swift exercise. But how, in this cold?
I envy the ruddy cheeks of farmers who work all winter long despite inclemency, who pitch straw and chop wood instead of lacing up Nikes and going for an independent jog that benefits no one but themselves.
So I determined to fit into my gown the natural way, the chilly way, the productive way.
“Dad, do you have any work for me to do?” I asked.
I made my case while he stared at me, reminding him that next year I will move back to Loudon County, Virginia, land of D.C. commuters and shopping malls: “This may be my last chance ever to work with my hands, Dad. Nobody in Loudon County wants me to chop their wood.”
My dad humored me, I think because he is going to miss me so much when I go: “When do you want to start?”
That night I was too excited to sleep. I woke before 7—for me a miracle roughly equivalent to the raising of the dead. I donned ragged sweatpants, a red coat I found lying around, and a stiff pair of gloves.
Dad invited me onto the sluggish tractor and showed me how to slip it into gear. I felt an incongruous sense of accomplishment, seeing as I drove just down the driveway.
Together we split and loaded about four face cords of firewood, which my dad told me weighed as much as my car. We sliced into the brown bodies of the trees, revealing their white innards, pitched them onto the wagon, and stacked. Soon, despite the chill, we stripped off our coats and went at it again.
I asked questions the whole time, because I don’t know how to stop being a writer:
“Why do they call it a face cord?”
“Some old timer came up with it, and they ran with it,” Dad told me.
“Do you ever get hit in the back of the head with flying wood?”
“All the time,” he replied.
I watched Jack the dog probe through the stacks for field mice, his eyebrows full of sawdust. One bolted from the pile, escaping Jack’s lips. “That mouse didn’t even have time to swear,” said Dad.
I thought I could catch a whiff of the farmer’s joy in the sawdust, and was sure I felt my hips shrink.
The next day my wrists ached. The day after that over lunch my brother announced to the table, “Chelsea did a load of wood!”
My uncle and our mechanic paused over their turkey sandwiches as though the message did not compute. “How did you get her to do that?” asked the mechanic.
“I felt lazy!” I said.
But I don’t anymore. If any of you live in Loudon County and have wood to stack, I’m your woman.