Cutting back on exercise, but chopping wood an obsession

I was having my annual physical last month and my doctor asked me what I do for exercise. My first instinct was to tell her the truth; that the most exercise I had gotten in the last month was walking up the hill in Seattle from the ferry to her office on First Hill.

But better judgment prevailed, and I told her I played golf and did yard work and went for walks at Fort Ward. That’s all true. But I have only played three rounds of golf all of 2022, and given the wet weather, I hadn’t done much in the yard since October. I also neglected to mention that since getting a riding lawnmower a couple of years ago, mowing the lawn now takes less than an hour instead of the four it took with a push mower. I also didn’t tell her that my riding mower has a cup holder on it and that I generally put it to use.

When I got home from Seattle, I realized that I had forgotten to mention that my primary form of exercise for many years has been bucking, splitting and stacking firewood. But I don’t normally think of that as exercise. For me, it’s something more than a hobby, perhaps verging on an obsession as evidenced by the four stacks of firewood in our yard. One of those areas I refer to is my “firewood staging area” where I gather my unsplit logs and rounds, which are the larval stage of firewood. My wife tends to refer to this area as an “eyesore” or a “fire hazard.”

Potato, potahto, I say.

I’m not exactly sure when my interest in firewood evolved from a mere wintertime chore into a full-blown, year-round obsession. It may have been some 20 years ago when I looked up one day and realized I had about four cords of stacked firewood in my backyard. And we don’t even rely on a wood stove as our primary source of heat.

My fixation with all things firewood was certainly helped along by my receipt years ago of a book called “Norwegian Wood” by Lars Mytting. The book is subtitled “Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way.” I’d be embarrassed to tell you how frequently I thumb through that book, and how envious I am of many artistic woodpiles lovingly photographed in it.

Norwegian Wood has replaced the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition as the form of literature I most eagerly look forward to each spring. Why the folks at SI haven’t seen fit to include any swimsuit models holding a Stihl chainsaw or particularly fashionable splitting maul is beyond me.

I know I am not alone in my obsession with firewood.

In “Splitting Wood,” the great American poet Billy Collins describes the moment when a freshly bucked log is struck with a splitting maul:

“I want to say there is nothing

like the sudden opening of wood,

but it is like so many other things

the stroke of the ax like lightning,

the bisection so perfect

the halves fall away from each other

as in a mirror,

and hit the soft ground

like twins shot through the heart.”

Now that I reread that poem, I’m thinking Collins might have an unhealthy attachment to splitting firewood. My own primary thought when splitting firewood is to be sure I end the day with roughly the same number of digits and appendages as I started out with.

President Lincoln was another famous American associated with chopping wood.

He famously said, or is credited with having famously said, if he had six hours to chop down a tree he’d spend the first four sharpening his ax. (The obvious question here is what was wrong with Lincoln’s ax that it took four hours to sharpen? And what was he sharpening it with, a nail file?) It’s often said if you chop your own firewood you’ll warm yourself twice, three times if you accidentally drop a hot ember into your slippers while emptying the ashes from your woodstove.

If a tree falls in the woods, and there is no one there to hear it, I don’t know if it makes a noise or not, but if you do hear it, let me know, and I’ll be there in an hour to help you turn it into firewood.

Tom Tyner writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper.