September 11, 2007

I was driving down my street this morning, and I passed a crew from a tree service grinding an enormous stump out of the ground in someone's front yard. I had the top down on my Jeep, and the smell of the wood being ground to bits reminded me of a story.

My Uncle Johnny and Aunt Helen live in an old house on a big lot with plenty of trees. Once upon a time, it was out in the sticks, but the town has grown up around them, and they're now in an old house on a big, tree-lined lot, surrounded by strip malls and pharmacies.

A good number of years ago, they found that they needed to have a couple of ancient giant trees taken down. They hired someone to cut them down, but Johnny had them leave the fallen trees in the yard, so that he could cut them up for firewood.

He started after work one day, chopping the first chip from the first tree, armed with an axe and a wedge. The next night after work, he chopped some more.

Night after night, he worked and worked on those trees, stopping for dinner, and then often returning to his chore. Friends offered to lend him chainsaws and wood splitters, but he politely declined.

For months, he worked on his trees. Piles of firewood sprang from the ground and grew into several person-sized mounds. Johnny grew muscles; his children described him as "buff."

I was almost tempted by the offer to drive four hours to pick up a load of free firewood. I know that everyone that was slighly acquainted must have taken home as much as they needed for three winters. It took a long, long time to get rid of all of that firewood.

Because, you see, Johnny and Helen's house doesn't even have a fireplace.