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September 2008, vol 4 no 3

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Ken Jones

Song of the Saws

  Split ash of yesterday
  its white flesh
  already dull

Every winter she and I perform our private miracle of oak and ash, birch and hazel, pine and larch. This celebrates the twentieth performance. How many more?

Several living trees, each with its own stubborn, long-shaped personality, are transformed into two or three great bunkers of firewood. In a twelvemonth these in turn become the winter warmth by which we live in our house of stone. And the end of the story is no more than a few buckets of ash to nourish a bed of leeks.

What was once a Victorian barn is now warmed by what was a Victorian coppice wood. A frosty morning, past the abandoned chapel and our long dead neighbours, across the sheep pasture, and into the wood, our second home.

    Her tense bow saw  His pitiless chainsaw
    the bite and rasp    screaming through knots and joints
    of its Swedish blade  muscle and bone

Sawdust spray -- the big flakes made by a well sharpened saw. Except for cutting with the grain, when a luxurious curly crop piles up. Down the slope we send the big logs rushing and leaping with such fierce energy that some jump the distant fence and crash onto the tarmac -- the post bus ambushed. But mostly we cut the timber into lengths just light enough to carry for stacking by the road. Each year the pieces grow smaller and lighter. Meanwhile, our saws are left to themselves.

     Hooked on a branch   On the forest floor
     the bow saw's grinning row  the orange chainsaw
     of silver teeth      chattering and fussing

With tractor and trailer our neighbours help haul the wood to our yard. Heavy work for two couples, lightened with laughter and chat. And bottles wedged in the departing trailer.

Early spring the smoke still curls and drifts from our three hungry stoves devouring last winter's labour, while a great tumbled stack rises outside our sitting room window. More sawing and splitting, as the different kinds of wood make their final gestures.

    Cross grained block of oak  The axe raised high
    scarred by my axe      the ash flashes
    sapping my strength     to the corners of the yard

What remains is a mound of sawdust swept away in summer sunshine. She has wheeled the last load of firewood into the stable, to be stacked neatly in the stalls of farm horses.

    A long, ripe marriage
    drumming logs into the barrow
    our fire dance

Republished from Blithe Spirit, vol 17, no 4.

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