Sunday nights I always call home, even when I have hours of work left to do before the morning. I swap stories with my parents, either amusing or important, sitting at my desk in the window, where the service is best but still spotty. I talk about which classes are most exciting, which friends have most recently amazed me anew, and the constant learning curve that comes with being a member of the Glee Club. In return, they recreate for me, in glimpses and pieces, the rhythm and pace of the home schedule I used to know.
Mom relates the latest soap opera plot to come out of the veterinary practice. Dad recites the dwindling number of high school basketball games remaining before the season is over and he no longer has to spend several hours every week running the damn clock. My little sister is always up to something, often doing great honor to the family.
Last Sunday, I called home and Dad answered the phone in relaxed high spirits. Mom picked up the other phone a minute later. All three had just returned from an overnight in Maine, where the air was fresh and peaceful. Winter birds were chirping about the dwindling number of days before Spring, and my parents sat on the Adirondack chairs in the clear forty-degree weather and allowed the sun to quietly clear their minds and warm their faces.
That morning, Dad went into the barn and opened the double doors at both ends, inviting the still air to explore the darkened interior. From Christmas break there remained an enormous pile of fresh-cut hardwood, much of which I had split on a twenty-degree morning before my return to school. Since then it had sat in a heap, undisturbed. Now he split the remainder and stacked the lot, all the while picking up pieces of oak which bore the evidence of my swings with the maul.
I remember that morning over break. I headed out to the cold barn bundled up with winter work gloves and went to work. Fifteen minutes later my hands were frozen solid, but after removing my jacket and waking up my blood, I spent the next hour comfortable in my jeans and a short-sleeved polo, buttoned to the top with the collar turned up for warmth.
The pieces of white oak were still green, and they were dense and hard. With good balance and a full swing, the maul would simply bounce off the top, sending a shock through my wrists and up my arms. But the grain was true, and once I found my range, I would take three hits to draw a line in the wood across the center of the log. Then, with the fourth or fifth hit, a solid swing split the wood neatly down the middle, and several swings later, the halves were each divided into thirds. The musical cadence of hardwood tumbling onto hardwood tempered the regular impact of the maul.
As Dad stacked the wood Sunday morning, he picked up the split pieces and saw the way the grain had split under the maul; he could picture me working. There in the white oak was the focus of my back and arms, preserved since that morning before returning to school, and the warmth in my hands that had taken fifteen minutes to find.
After I hung up the phone, I worked for seven hours on a history essay, watching the time on my laptop grow later and later into the morning.
Back in Maine there is an enormous pile of neatly stacked wood in the barn, felled and cut into lengths by Dad, split by me, and stacked weeks later by Dad. Each piece of wood bears the mark of the chainsaw and the maul. Leaning against the wall in the carriage house is the maul I used for the first hour, before the handle split and I had to use the other. The winter work gloves are on the shelf, stiff from the cold.
I was looking forward to returning to school that day, but that morning, I split wood in the barn and felt no time pass.