Woodpile Therapy


This has been a truly weird winter no matter how you view things. Mostly milder than usual, delivering more rain than snow, with a weekly roller-coaster — sometimes daily! — of up-and-down weather swings.

Last Wednesday all enjoyed a crazy sun-filled day with an unseasonable 70 degrees high! Two days later, temperatures barely managed to reach the mid-30s. Naturally, we were served an in-between dingy day of rain and clouds.

Sun, warmth, rain, cold; blue skies, dark clouds, plus a few wind advisory days thrown in just to keep things interesting.

Such vacillating weather might be typical during mercurial March — but for mid-February … in Ohio?

I’m confused and more than a bit disconcerted. Worse, I’m starting to wonder if those bizarre theorists in their tinfoil hats might actually be onto something. And being recently invaded and spied upon by a flock of foreign balloons (or were they alien reconnaissance drones?) hasn’t calmed my overall disquiet.

Luckily I have a woodpile — a fine jumble of logs on silent standby until I get around to their sawing, splitting, and stacking. Better still, these waiting logs are what you’d call my “firewood futures.”

Why? Because this heating season is now covered. Its needs met. In the bag — or more accurately, on the stack. Ricks and cords I have already produced, now drying and awaiting, ready to feed into the stove.

Firewood aplenty to see us through to spring.

This means there’s no longer a frantic rush, no looming threat of an impending freezing doom to keep me working — sawing, splitting, stacking — regardless of rain or snow, ice or cold.

I can work when I want … or not, as the spirit moves, unmotivated by seasonal fickleness.

Not only is that wonderfully fulfilling, but it frees and puts you in a secure place that allows for an additional bonus of work-without-pressure days you can actually enjoy.

Labor becomes pleasure.

For me, working in my woodpile is no small act of therapy — especially in these trying times. I find solace and settling; a perspective I can live with, even if it’s often more by acceptance than agreement or even understanding.

When I split a chunk of ash or walnut, I hold time and energy in my hand. A meaningful contribution to my future.

I also hold history.

A piece of oak or sycamore might have been a sapling when this country was founded. Who knows the storms it has weathered? But I appreciate that lifespan and will burn it with remembrance and due respect.

Just up the road, my woodpile view is of white and yellow patches covering large portions of a neighbor’s yard. Snowdrops and winter aconites. I look up every so often from my work and see them there — the year’s first blooms; reassuring seasonal harbingers.

I also take regular pauses to enjoy the drumming of a certain downy woodpecker who regularly quick-hammers staccato beats from a nearby maple snag. The dapper little bird whacks out announcements like bursts of machine-gun fire. Fast, ringing snaps that carry a long ways.

There’s much discussion and disagreement among bird experts as to just what message is being delivered by a drumming woodpecker — or even if there is a message. Similar to songs, drumming seems to be a learned behavior, both functionally and neurologically. But is it generally territorial, or a species-specific “come hither” call to co-mingle and procreate?

What amazes me is how these birds always manage to find trees and limbs — or sometimes poles, posts, or parts of a building — that produce the same ringing tone. A downy woodpecker here, on the road side of the river, and another a hundred yards away across the channel in the island’s woods, broadcast almost identical percussive sounds.

The same goes for the slightly larger hairy woodpecker, whose drumming tone is pretty similar, though rhythmically different.

Red-bellied and pileated woodpeckers don’t seem to be quite so concerned with their hammered tones. Not that the drumming of the two species sounds anything alike; there’s no difficulty distinguishing between patterns of the different birds or who’s doing which. But their produced sounds have a range of tonal variations. Maybe a perfectly-tuned instrument is just hard to find.

I’m also now hearing a change and uptick in the cardinals.

No longer content with their usual single-note chirrups — sharp punctuations, an almost metallic “chink” which you hear as they go about their daily business of selecting sunflower seeds from the feeder — males have recently begun singing their song: “What cheer—cheer—cheer!”

A familiar, full-fledged melody, lively, joyous—a song almost unheard since early autumn of last year when the usually boisterous redbirds fell strangely silent, retiring into the underbrush for their post-breeding molt. Afterward, though again resplendent in new scarlet cloaks, the cardinals weren’t given to their usual bursts of song. Now they’ve again found their voice.

The singing starts early, well before the first hint of dawn. Its announcement is twofold.

First: “This is my property; trespassers will not be tolerated!” A territorial proclamation. The avian equivalent of an audible fence.

Second: “I’m single, available, and looking for a meaningful relationship!” The eternal statement of procreation.

Verve and volume have returned, drumming and songs ring out. Blooms appear. Sure signals that somewhere beyond February’s indecision, the seasons are moving, while the earth remains on course … spinning, tilting, following its eternally prescribed elliptical pathway around the sun.

Working in my woodpile bolsters my faith in nature — even as my faith in mankind falters and fades.

Reach Jim McGuire at [email protected].

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