The first piece of writing I ever published that I made any kind of money from was titled “Maple,” and it was about the intense labor of cutting wood. As a family of sugar makers, for years we cut and split wood at far greater amounts than almost anyone else we knew. Particularly through my older daughter’s life, cutting, stacking, and hauling wood, has been a constant.
In that autobiographical essay, I wrote: “Perhaps it’s that Puritan streak driven so deeply in my soul, but I believe that living demands its toll: that creation is lockstep with destruction. As such, wood forms the crux of our life, the cycle of our turning days, months, years. And yet this rural life has also bequeathed my girl her wild wood.”
Today, undergoing yet more repair of a tooth broken twenty years ago when a piece of firewood fell from a pile stacked too high, I realized, again, our souls may be fierce, but we live and die by the body. It’s a marvel to realize something as small as tooth may do in a body. In the chair today, with my eyes closed, I smelled an antiseptic that reeked of bleach, and then…. cloves. Cloves? Exotically rich, sensual, nourishing. Could there be a greater juxtaposition?
The young endodontist showed me the film of my tooth, its root illuminated like a miniature splinter of lightning. In his pleasant, southern accent, he advised me to think good thoughts. I intend to. But I will also never stack wood higher than my shoulders again.
…When I was ten
we lived in a bungalow in Indianapolis…
Once I got up and went outside.
The trees-of-heaven along the track swam in white mist.
The sky arched with sickle pears.
Lilacs had just opened.
I pulled the heavy clusters to my face
and breathed them in,
suffused with a strange excitement
that I think, when looking back, was happiness.
Ruth Stone, from “What We Have”