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The joy of splitting

GAYS MILLS - We are now slouching toward autumn. The back-to-school shopping is largely done, local football and volleyball seasons have started, gardens are producing full tilt, weeds of every stripe are racing to complete their life cycles. It’s coming alright, the beautiful fall season and then, well, you know what comes after fall.

There comes a day in August, or at least a part of a day, even during a hot spell, when you can sense the coming season change.  There’s a special coolness in the morning, something in the air, a smell of ripe foliage, a shortening of the days.  Sunrises and sunsets each clip a minute or two off each of their respective ends of August days.  August 1 is 14 hours and 31 minutes long; August 31 is 13 hours and 13 minutes long.

Thanks to the kindness of friends, I have had the use of two wood splitters this summer. The gas-powered wood splitter is one of the most marvelous inventions of man. It is a very simple tool that harnesses hydraulic power, multiplies the mechanical force necessary to make useable fuel wood out of whatever size blocks of tree trunks you can manage to get into the powerful jaws of the machine. When you apply 27 tons of force on a block of wood and push it against the splitting wedge, it IS going to split, one way or t’other. It’s a real power trip.

To really appreciate a gas-powered wood splitter it helps to have split wood the original way: using a splitting maul or wedges and a maul. That job is a real workout and probably should be done once by every person that burns wood for heat, at least for the experience.

I have taken advantage of some of these cool-ish mornings lately to “make wood” with a borrowed splitter. The whole idea is to help the wood dry down so it burns better. An unsplit block of wood that’s three years old will still have moisture in it, it just can’t get out.  A split block will dry out quickly and burn safer (wet wood can cause chimney fires). And splitting the wood makes it more manageable size-wise.

One problem I have with splitting wood is that I can’t seem to stop once I get started.   Wrestling the big blocks onto the I-beam of the splitter and watching the wood fall apart under pressure just fascinates me. I am a simple man. A hard winter month’s worth of firewood can be split in an hour or less.  Watching the split pile grow is a satisfying thing.

I look forward to winter. The short days and long nights call for a different pace than summer. The earth rests and subtly suggests that we do too. The satisfaction of burning wood that you have cut and split, while you’re curled up with a good book is hard to beat.