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142 nonfiction Lia Purpura ON TOOLS 143 That wood won’t work. It was chainsawed roughly by someone who had no eye for logs and now it can’t be split. It’s piled by the side of the road in squat disks like kinged checkers, game over. I myself do not cut wood, but review this situation through the eyes of a friend whose pretty impressive woodpile I’ve seen in a photo he sent. All that wood stacked against the shed—enough for a winter, I guessed. Six cords, he refined. Later came the word limb (as a verb) in conversation. And when I said “ax” and he corrected with “maul” (not really a minor adjustment ), choice emerged, the field of cutting enlarged and was no longer the simple stock act of cartoons. Hatchet arose. I imagined the restive, neatly hung options lining the shed in the photo. (“Splitting mauls come in four-pound increments: eight, twelve, sixteen—mine is sixteen; between maul and ax, the ax is more versatile: slimmer, lighter, sharper . . . A maul doesn’t have to be very sharp. It doesn’t cut, it just pries,” my friend writes, going on about functions and choices, since I asked.) I started to notice my neighbors’ woodpiles, the good, precise stacks and the teetery ones; people use bins, frames, or canvas haulers; supply varies greatly, from modest stacks for the occasional fire to piles for serious heating; kids mess up the piles substantially, borrowing for clubhouses and skateboard jumps. Here in Baltimore, in the city, wood arrives by delivery in fall and sits at the curb until people get around to stacking on weekends. But about those sharp quarter rounds (ah, the novice’s love of new words in the mouth): someone made them happen. If I stick with this a little longer, I might have a chance, in conversation, to use the phrase put up wood (like put up preserves) now that I know that’s what you do. And with more time still, I could memorize which wood, in my friend’s part of the country, contains the most Btus per cord, though I’m finding no helpful acronym for (starting with the highest density) Oak, Ash, Maple, Birch, Poplar, Aspen, Pine. Recently I had a chance to try it myself. It wasn’t complicated and I pretty much managed, but awkwardly. My musculature isn’t trained for the task; nothing in my body’s habituated that way. If I had a reason to practice splitting (like, say, a fireplace) I might become good. But my arcs through air were all evection. As a beginner, I couldn’t control the ax very well—it kept wobbling out of the orbit I intended. The handle felt too long and unbalanced and I couldn’t find the space in air that 144 ecotone opened for the blade. I suspect that when you’re on, there’s a groove the blade remembers, and a fissile core awaiting release that calls the right motion down. Sometimes I look at people (or read certain books) and think (not unkindly, just with disappointment): oh, a first-time gesture—say, at a state fair, at one of those booths where guys try to impress their girlfriends by swinging a mock but heavy sledgehammer that, if landed hard enough on the little pad, raises a lever, mercuryin -a-thermometer-style, and hits a red bell at the top. Such gestures are clumsy, and haven’t yet found even a jerky-effective method. They’re all just sloppy force asserted . Every now and then someone comes by and it’s clear, you can see: he actually does this in the course of a day. The language is there, the movements (both the transitional and the primary) are refined or quirky: either way, a system has been worked out. (Of course the carnie running the game can nail the spot and ring the bell, over and over, though he isn’t a big guy; he just knows the sweet place, wherever it is, off-center or flat-on. He swings his rubbery sledgehammer up, lets it hang at the zenith just for a second, then...


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pp. 142-146
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