A Lesson in Lumberjacking

:: in which feminism is chopped off at the knees ::

I go back and forth between being a feminist and being quite traditional. I’m going to go ahead and blame my mom for that because 1) she’s not here to defend herself; and 2) like me, she had one foot planted in each camp and I think I learned it from her. My mom was fiercely in favor of women’s rights but at the same time she was like, “I want to spend my life barefoot and pregnant, and someone better support me while I do it.” She was a beautiful puzzle, just like me.

So, on to the story. When I moved to the country, I wanted to try my hand at everything backwoodsy. I wanted to raise chickens, make maple syrup, and hunt deer. And I wanted to chop wood. I got my chance right away when a dead walnut tree on our property threatened to fall over and my husband decided we’d better cut it down before it fell on its own.

My brother-in-law came over and taught us how to use our new chainsaw. A chainsaw is not an item you own when you live in a condo in Silicon Valley, so we were very excited to try it out. After nearly sawing our legs off and learning what makes the chainsaw smoke, we ended up with a lot of beautiful chunks of wood. [I should note that when I say “we” were learning, I really mean me. My husband is adept with all kinds of saws and drills and drivers and motors…you know, man stuff.]

Now it was time to chop the wood. If you’re from the city like me, you are probably thinking, “Didn’t you already chop the wood in the last step? This story is redundant; I’m moving on to another blog.” Well no, we didn’t just chop the wood, we bucked the wood. It’s different. The tree was cut into big round chunks with the chainsaw and now it had to be chopped with an axe into smaller, fireplace-sized pieces.

I was so excited about chopping wood, and I assumed everyone else would be too. So I did what came naturally: I threw a party. I invited all my female friends over to chop some wood. Surprisingly, they weren’t interested. Only one friend wanted to chop wood with me. But everyone else wanted to come over and watch, so it turned out to be a good party anyway.

We had all the requisite equipment: axes (the man kind…we didn’t want no stinkin’ “Junior Boys’ Medium Weight” axe), safety glasses, gloves, and beer for the men. Because we didn’t want them getting a hold of our axes so we needed to keep their hands busy. Hence the beer.

Everyone gathered around as Lara and I prepared to attack our first block of wood. She made me go first, which was smart on her part. I hefted the axe over my head and immediately realized this was going to be a lot harder than I thought. I didn’t know how far back to stand, and I was terrified that I would miss the wood and swing the axe down on my legs. The axe was a lot heavier than I had anticipated, and I was breaking a sweat just holding it up there.

Shouts of helpful advice were being pitched at me from the gallery of amused onlookers until I finally tuned it all out and focused on the wood. I swung down as hard as I could and MISSED. I took a lot of ribbing about how you don’t use an axe to cut the grass, which I endured in good humor. After all, I’m the one who gave them beer. I repositioned myself to try again. This time I made contact with the wood, but it didn’t split. The axe bounced off like bullets off Superman. (Right? Is he bulletproof?)

I was determined to split at least one piece, but several swings later the wood was no closer to being chopped. I kept swinging until I was completely out of breath and my arm muscles were shaking. I wanted so badly to split that damn wood, but I could see it wasn’t going to happen. I handed the axe to Lara, who by this time was probably wondering if A) her friend Jessica is a super weakling; or B) this is really harder than it looks.

She had the benefit of learning from my mistakes, namely that you need to hold the axe very high over your head and come down with ALL your strength. Also, stand with your legs far apart so if you miss the wood, you won’t cut your legs off. After a few tries, she actually chipped a piece off and we all cheered. All praise to Lara, but even with her success it was still not the chopfest we had imagined.

I wanted us to split all the wood on our own, the girls doing all the lumberjacking, having fun and showing the men that we could do it. But after 45 minutes of hacking away at it, the wood was still 95% intact and Lara and I were exhausted, out of breath, and defeated. We couldn’t chop the wood. Not even one really good piece.

So we set the feminist movement back a few years and handed the axe over to the men, who took turns quickly splitting the logs. Walnut is a hard wood so it took some work even for them, but they still blasted through a dozen logs in less time than it took me to stop slicing the air and make contact with the wood in the first place.

Later in the day when the party was winding down and I’d caught my breath, I went back out to the woodpile, alone. I was determined to split some wood. I gave it a few tries, but got nowhere. I went back into the house, dejected and a little angry.

The next day, Michael found me out by the woodpile again. “Giving it another try?” he asked.

“I have to chop a piece of wood,” I said.

“I know,” he said.

So he pulled up a stump and sat out there with me for half an hour as I whacked at that walnut wood, until finally I split a piece off. A good fireplace-sized chunk. The party was over and the moment had passed, but it was a victory nonetheless. I may not have big muscles but I am one determined girl and that’s enough to take me as far as I want to go. Except into lumberjacking because, you know, it’s pretty hard.