I was laughing between swings of the ax and it wasn’t making the job any easier. I say “job” like it was something I was told to do. It wasn’t. For some reason, I’d asked my Dad to show me how to chop wood. To his credit, he wasn’t laughing at me. Also to his credit, he wasn’t getting incredibly frustrated at my lack of skill.
My parents live on a farm. We build fires for family get-togethers and to warm parts of their house. Chopping wood is somewhat of a necessity. I wanted to know how to do it.
I hold a pretty firm belief in the idea that I can do anything my male counterparts can do, aside from some very obvious things I cannot do (insert some joke about anatomy). For better or worse, my family lets me believe this. That’s probably because my mom is a certifiable badass. She builds houses for a living. She grew up with six brothers and no sisters. She’s never met a task she wasn’t sure she could take on. I mean, she’s at least 74 times as tough as I am. What I’m saying is she would’ve been much better at chopping wood than I was.
It’s more difficult than it looks, you guys. Seriously.
At some point between swings I stopped and put the ax down. I’m not saying I was stalling, but it felt like the right moment to joke with my dad about the time my 8th grade track coach assigned me to shot put. Also, I was stalling. Anyway, the shot put thing was historically bad. It’s a story we still tell pretty regularly. If you know me at my current size, you know my arms aren’t what you’d refer to as “super strong”. If you knew me at my 8th grade size, you know I was essentially a skeleton. Me doing shot put was, putting it gently, hilarious. If there’s a record book somewhere for shortest distance a shot has been put (I don’t think that’s right…), my name has to be in it. On the ten most embarrassing things to ever happen to me, doing shot put at a middle school track meet makes the top half of the list.
Chopping wood was like that. I mean, on the list of embarrassing things, had anyone other than my dad been watching it would’ve gone a notch or two above 8th grade shot put. The ax wasn’t heavy. The wood wasn’t unusually thick. The swinging mechanics weren’t hard to master. The thing I didn’t take into account was what happens when ax meets wood. If you’re my dad — who, frankly, surprises me with his strength — then the wood splits easily in two on the first chop. If you’re me, the ax gets stuck… every single time. Stuck ax is followed by epic battle between me and uncut log. Between each chop I spent at least a minute or two with one boot firmly behind me and one pressed against the wood while I pulled on the ax with the strength of both arms. I don’t want to know what it looked like. I’m sure it could’ve been a great pose for one of those big warning labels. Just a silhouette of me, pulling on an ax with a giant red circle and a line through it covering my body.
Chopping wood took roughly twice as long as it normally would for my dad. It probably took about four times as long as it would have if one of my brothers had been there helping. My dad didn’t care. He had a couple of beers and probably quietly enjoyed how hilarious I looked while trying to learn a new skill. Plus it got done eventually, so who cares if it took a little while longer?
I got better at it by the end. My arms hurt like hell the next day, but I know how to chop wood. I mean, if you get really desperate, I can be called on in some sort of wood chopping emergency. Provided you don’t need the wood too quickly, and you don’t mind me pausing for a story or two in the middle of the job.
Actually, maybe just call my dad.