Wednesday, July 4, 2007

My Work: Woodcutting - Part 1

“My dad liked to be warm when he ate,” my neighbor Ray told me one day. “He used to pull the kitchen table over so he could sit with his back up close to the cookstove.”

“Our stove was about two feet out from the wall. On some winter mornings there was a coating of frost on that wall an inch thick that you could scrape off with your hand. Our jobs in the morning were to build the fire, heat the water for washing, go out and feed the pigs, water and harness the team, and then, when the kitchen was warm, crack open the door to my folk’s room and get ready for school.

“I’d take my gun to school and shot quite a few rabbits on the way there and back. The teacher never seemed to mind as long as I made sure it was unloaded when I brought it in. She knew those rabbits made the difference in our family between hungry and full and she let me lean my gun against the back wall by my coat.

“In the winter we’d take the team and sleigh a mile or so into the bush to cut wood. One time in the swamp, with the sleigh full of logs, the team broke through the ice. I was the youngest, about ten, and I was chest deep in freezing water. I had to go in front of the horses and grab their bridles to try to calm them down because they were lunging and fighting to get out of the water and they might cut themselves on the ice. I was hanging on to them and they bobbed me in and out of the water like you’d dip a candle. Bize, I thought I’d perish right there. I’ve never been so cold. But we built a fire, dried out our clothes and kept on working.

“Another time, I got just my pants wet and they froze right quick. It worked out, though. If I kept moving, I didn’t get cold because that coating of ice acted like a windbreak on the outside.

“We’d haul the logs out first, all the time loading any brush bigger than a broom handle on the second sleigh for the next load. We used that for the cookstove. And it went on like that past dark, first logs, then brush. And you had to get all the brush and pack it down good to make sure it was a full load or you got the boots put to you.

“My dad would work all day out there without gloves and he never got cold. He used to chew on a chunk of pork fat he kept in his pocket, thick as a piece of pie. While the rest of us were freezing, he would be driving the team bare-handed, holding those icy reins. That’s for true.”

No comments: