By Timber Jones
In the fall of the year, my lumberjack soul awakens. For the next six months, my chores revolve around the felling, limbing, and bucking of trees. It all begins in the evening within the walls of my shop. By the glow of lantern light I take grindstone in hand and sharpen my axes for the work that awaits them. The slow, circular grinding sounds accompanied by the tree frogs and crickets have a calming effect on my senses. What a sight it would be for a townsman to look through the window and think he was looking back in time! These evenings are always amongst my favorites.
Then the good, cold, winter mornings come. To wake before the sun and fill up on a breakfast of flapjacks, sausage and bacon with a hot cup of coffee is enough to bring joy to any man’s heart, but I can’t linger for too long; the woods are calling my name. As I make my way into the woods, memories flood my mind. I recall days watching my father swing his axe and teaching me this tradition. I think of the hickory that wouldn’t give up its will to hold on and the oak that took out a smaller tree as it came down…two trees for the chopping of one! I remember the time a great cedar seemed to step to the side rather than lay down!
It also strikes me on these mornings that there are many loggers in the world, but lumberjacks are few and far between anymore. There is no doubt that I believe in traditional masculinity, and I can tell you with great certainty that chopping down a tree on a cold winter day is about the most masculine thing a man can do. I met a logger two summers ago who actually said to me, “You couldn’t pay me enough money to chop a tree with an axe!” He doesn’t know what he is missing. This young logger would discover more about himself as a man by swinging an axe than almost anything I can think of.
Back to the woods…
As the chopping begins, and the chips start to fly, I can’t help but think of the men of yesteryear who built this country, our grandfathers who cleared the land this way, and the men we have become. I take a moment to breathe in deep the winter air, the wonderful quiet of the outdoors, and the feeling of being completely alone, yet in great company with the tall, strong giants of the woods.
There are times, however, when I bring along someone else. On a few occasions, that someone has been my daughter. Fathers, if you want to make quick work of being a superhero to your child, let them watch you chop down a tree. Other times, I have brought younger men with me to pass on the skills my father taught me. It makes me very proud to see them go from being scared to death and unsure of their ability to puffing out their chest with their foot on top of the tree they just felled, proving that surely there is a lumberjack inside every man. There is no one that I like bringing into the woods more than my friend Jon Schaff. He and I understand the woods in the same way and share the same reverence for them. It has become a tradition for us to venture out on New Year’s Day. We chop for a while then start a fire without matches, of course, and cook up a pot of beans. When we’re good and full, we buck the tree we just felled.
The axe, as opposed to the chainsaw, doesn’t disrupt the woods. The axe is a reverent tool. When using it, you can still hear what is happening around you. You hear the birds and the breeze. You hear your friend’s words of encouragement or good-natured ribbing! You are able to concentrate on the lessons the woods are trying to teach you. The axe respects the age of the tree. God grew these specimens for many years and they deserve a fighting chance. In contrast, a man deserves to feel the strength of the fight within that tree in every strike. He needs to learn as his axe cuts into the tree that there are things in this world that are, perhaps, mightier than he, and that each man needs to be a whole lot tougher than the timber he’s cutting.
It’s amazing how much a man can sweat in the winter! After all that, coming home to a warm cabin and a mug of hot chocolate is a welcomed event. This is when I get to sit down and share the tales of the day with my family. I hope that long after I am gone, and my axes are passed down to another man, my loved ones will remember the sound of my voice. But maybe even more so, I hope they remember the sound of the ringing of my axe.