Reflections of a Southern Yankee: Lessons From a Wood Pile

I looked up at this new man in my life like he was crazy. He wore an Irish style hat upon his head. His red beard covered most of his face. I’d never been around anyone with a beard up until this point. My grandfather shaved every morning. My uncle did the same. Even my real father never grew a beard. So now, I found myself with a man who didn’t shave at all. Funny how the paths in our lives sometimes take us to unexpected places.

I watched the man pick up a large log and lay it across these contraptions called “sawhorses” – something he had made out of scrap wood. I studied every move he made, in awe of things I’d never seen before. He explained to me that what we would be doing, would later heat our home. I still didn’t really comprehend what he was saying. For the previous six years of my life, I had lived with my grandparents in upstate New York where a furnace in the basement kept us warm. After that, I lived with my abusive parents in an apartment complex. I don’t know how we got our heat there. But now, I found myself with a couple who had adopted me and lived in a house in the woods that didn’t have a basement. No basement, no furnace. What it did have was a black iron contraption in the kitchen. There was a pipe that led from it into the wall. I would later learn how important it was in keeping us warm during the cold western Virginia winters.

The man with piercing blue eyes produced a bow saw. He instructed me on how to hold the end of the saw while he held the other. Together, we placed the serrated blade of the saw about 12 to 15 inches from the end of the log in the saw horse. Then, we worked together to push and pull the saw back and forth as the blade sunk deeper and deeper into the wood and sawdust fell like snow to the ground. Over and over again, we cut piece by piece from log after log. When a pile of wood had accumulated beneath the saw horse, we worked together to neatly stack it.

Over weeks and months, the woodpile became larger and larger. When the nights became colder, we brought armfuls of wood into the kitchen. There, using old newspapers and kindling, we started a fire in that old wood stove. Slowly, the flames became hotter and brighter. Piece by piece, we added wood until there was a blazing fire within. The stove began to emanate a warmth that filled the room and, eventually, the rest of the house.

There was something so comforting about sitting in that small kitchen, listening to the crackling fire within that wood stove and feeling its wonderful heat. Perhaps it was knowing I was safe and part of a loving family again. Perhaps it was knowing that I had helped contribute to the warmth in the home.

Over the years, I grew to where I could cut the wood on my own. I learned how to neatly stack a wood pile, so it was pleasing to the eye and so the wood would cure properly. I learned many lessons from something as simple as cutting and stacking wood. I learned how cutting wood keeps one warm not once, but twice. You work up a sweat while pushing the saw back and forth. Your heart rate increases while you stack the wood. And, you’re warmed once again as you sit by the wood stove emanating heat from the wood you spent hours and hours cutting and stacking. But, most of all,  I learned that there are good people on this earth who I could trust once again. People who truly loved me and taught me that hard work is something of which to be proud.

Hard work is something that builds character and teaches lifelong lessons. The wood piles we spend time building in our lives will benefit us in the long run. I’m forever grateful for the lessons learned from something as simple yet as important as…the woodpile.


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