A marriage's math: the rhythm of logs

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My husband and I are moving the woodpile again. This must be the third time we've done this since the beginning of the year. We move it closer to the house when it's cold outside, farther away when it's warm. Sometimes it's more of a lateral move. Sometimes we just move it for fun. We're trying to find the perfect spot for the whole three cords of it, a place that is both utilitarian and poetic.

Our choices are somewhat limited. The backyard seems best. And no matter how much wood we burn each year, we always seem to have quite a pile of split logs longing to be rearranged.

My husband believes that stacking wood is both a science and an art. I look at the task as a free and mostly pleasant form of exercise, plus an opportunity to commune with nature. I wasn't a child of the '60s, but I was a child in or during the '60s.

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The hippie-dippy dopeyness of my formative environment may never wear off. I still feel virtuous when I'm doing something outdoors, like moving firewood from one place to another, as opposed to doing something indoors, like shopping. I'll take the dale and the dell over the mall any day.

But my husband should consider writing a book called "The Art of Scientific Wood Piling." I think it would be an instant bestseller, and not just because he's a very good writer. I think he'd strike a resonant chord on the emotional guitar of many men's lives. They may not be star dust, they may never be golden, but - by cracky - they will get themselves back to the garden. (Why do you think they called it Woodstock? )

When I work with my husband in the yard, we rarely speak. It's not a time for chitchat; this much I've learned, in all my years of pretending to be one of the guys. Girls talk, boys grunt and nod.

So when I'm moving the woodpile, I act like a registered monk, or a teamster who's taken a vow of silence. I follow directions; I try to make the pile straight. "Build it up!" my husband says (it's the only thing he utters). I used to mutter "duh" under my breath until I noticed that my side of the pile was often crooked and leaning, in a leering sort of way, and that his side wasn't.

His woodpile is always ramrod straight, proud, and tall. To him, the wood is not just fuel; it's a walk backward into history, a flight of fancy on solid ground.

I think he also enjoys moving the woodpile because he spends so much time at a desk. In our modern world, we have to invent reasons and ways to stay active. The woodpile is one reason and way.

I shouldn't call it a "pile," come to think of it. It's more like the wall of wood. It stretches almost 50 feet across our property and stands at least four feet tall. It's a monolith, lying down.

I learn a lot about us when I'm engaged in lifting logs. I learn about partnership and cooperation - marriage as an elementary-school project. There's a right way to place the logs and a wrong way, let me tell you. The right way works, the wrong way doesn't. There's an arithmetic to making the logs stack steady, and though it takes time to learn it, it's well worth the effort. Just like a lot of things in life.

When I work in the yard with my husband, I learn the math of marriage. The little things we do together, they all add up. The sum of us is more than the logs -of that I'm pretty sure. But when I look at that lovely wall of wood behind our house, I'm reminded that we are partners. We have dreams and aspirations, together and apart. We have children, we have logs, we have love.

That's what the firewood tells me when I wonder if it has found its final resting place. I don't think so. My husband will find a reason to move it come November.

Sometimes I can feel my husband watching me try to wedge a log into a space where it clearly (to him anyway) doesn't belong. Patiently, he'll gesture with his eyebrows that I should reconsider. I used to think, "Sheesh, it's not like we're working on a jigsaw puzzle here." But the longer I do this thing with the woodpile, the more I'm convinced that there is a right place for every log, and several wrong places, too. Recently our son stopped by on his way to the garage. He started to put a log in a rather precarious spot (to me anyway). "Not there," I chided him. "There," I said, pointing to a spot three inches farther down the row. He smiled and acquiesced, although something in the way he looked at me seemed to say, "Whatever."

I look forward to moving the woodpile again. I've learned to enjoy the task, literally and figuratively. It gives me hope, and there aren't even any feathers involved. Just a feeling - however fleeting - of work well done. That's worth moving a few hundred logs for, every couple months or so.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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