A Wood Pile Before Frost Sets InFriday, October 17, 2008
It was brisk but not cold last weekend at Ale's in Lillooet. She was getting ready for winter. Her house does have central heating but she rarely uses it as her wood stove in her living room is most efficient. She has to keep it fed. So the folks who seem to supply most in Lillooet with nicely chopped firewood arrived and unloaded three pick-up loads. We found ourselves piling wood. This is something I have mostly never done before. I got slivers and sticky resin but the work made my blood circulate. We built three piles, one of them in Ale's inside porch. Being her father I gave her advice. I am sure she knows better. I told her that she should leave the indoor pile intact, brave the early winter and go outside to get her firewood.
Sometime around 1964 I had a professor at the University of the Americas who looked like Robert Frost (he had lots of white hair). They had been friends. He had many stories to tell us. From the back row where I sat, these stories, then, were drones that went in one ear and out the other. But somehow some stuff managed to linger and then remain. One day he read us Robert Frost's Wood Pile.
It took all this time and making a wood-pile in Lillooet to finally connect.
Out walking in the frozen swamp one grey day
I paused and said, "I will turn back from here.
No, I will go on farther--and we shall see."
The hard snow held me, save where now and then
One foot went down. The view was all in Straight up and down of tall slim trees
Too much alike to mark or name a place by
So as to say for certain I was here
Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
A small bird flew before me. He was careful
To put a tree between us when he lighted,
And say no word to tell me who he was
Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.
He thought that I was after him for a feather--
The white one in his tail; like one who takes
Everything said as personal to himself.
One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
And then there was a pile of wood for which
I forgot him and let his little fear
Carry him off the way I might have gone,
Without so much as wishing him good-night.
He went behind it to make his last stand.
It was a cord of maple, cut and split
And piled--and measured, four by four by eight.
And not another like it could I see.
No runner tracks in this year's snow looped near it.
And it was older sure than this year's cutting,
Or even last year's or the year's before.
The wood was grey and the bark warping off it
And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis
Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
What held it though on one side was a tree
Still growing, and on one a stake and prop,
These latter about to fall. I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself, the labour of his axe,
And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
With the slow smokeless burning of decay.