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Split Personality

Editor's Note ~ Winter 2011 (V5I4)

Someone is laughing at me. I can't see or hear them, but someone surely must be watching and laughing at my folly. I'm outside my new digs for the winter wearing a dress, flimsy moccasins, and a beat-up, oversized Cowichan sweater to keep me warm against the chill of a crisp October morning. After a summer spent living in a trailer with no running hot water, I've taken a greedy morning shower despite the fact I'm about to get extremely sweaty and covered in muck. My face is flushed and, catching my reflection in a window, streaked with soot smudges. I look like a doomed extra from the final battle scene in Braveheart.
   I have been through a battle, in fact. For the past 1/2 hour, I have been at war with one not-so-large piece of wood, a foot-long, skinny adversary I have christened El Diab- log--the devil's timber. Starting with a hatchet, and then exhausting my patience with a perfectly adequate splitting axe, I'm now wobbling about with a maul so heavy I can barely lift it above my shoulders. Steeling my arms, I bring it down to bear as many times as I can and am infuriated to see the only thing showing signs of give is the chopping block, which by now has several cracks forming through its centre. I look around again, certain that the only splitting I've accomplished is side-splitting laughter from one of my few neighbours. I look at the cord of wood lined up by the house and wonder about the price of an electric wood splitter and whether owning one would open me up to merciless teasing.
    Dizzy and aching, I am ready to give up, when a voice from somewhere I can't recall speaks from my subconscious: Let the weight of the axe do the work. Suddenly, I am not a pitiful Braveheart extra, but Luke Skywalker under the instruction of some wood-chopping Obi-Wan Kenobi. I raise the axe again and let gravity work its magic. El Diab-log emits a glorious crrrrraaaack. Encouraged, I execute the same swing again, and, when I finally fracture the log in two, it's all I can do not to take a victory lap around the house.
   Now that I've got some variant on technique, I split several more logs before muscle exhaustion kicks in.  Bent but unbowed, I go inside, lighting a fire not because I am cold (I am roasting), but because I can.
    Later that day, I share this embarrassing encounter with several friends--veterans of the woodpile--who, rather than laugh at me,  
Photo: Michael Edwards
recount their own battles with stubborn, unyielding firewood. They talk of impenetrable knots, chopping upside down (what?), and early-childhood chopping experiences spent with zealous parents exhorting them to “read the log.” I feel uneasy. Clearly, splitting six pieces of birch that morning was not the end of the struggle.
    In the weeks that follow, I keep at it. While I'm still no match for the larger pieces of timber on the pile, I can take on medium- sized rounds with aplomb. I no longer need the maul. I can raise the splitting axe clear above my head and bring it down without losing my balance. I begin to develop detectable muscle definition in my biceps. I feel an overwhelming urge to challenge friends to arm-wrestling competitions. I win--at least once. Something resembling confidence wells up within me. Even my dog, who has always interpreted “Come!” as “Ignore me and keep running after that car!” seems to notice a change in my demeanour, and, out of the blue, he suddenly listens to my every command.
   Yet again, the Yukon presented me with a challenge I thought would surely break me, and, yet again, it made me stronger, the “self” in self-reliant drawn further into focus, the Braveheart-lookin' lady in the window's reflection another part of my character I had never known.
   Who knows who else is lurking in there?
   For now, however, I am the boss lady, in control of tiny dogs and medium-sized logs alike. Hear me (and my fire) roar.


Elaine Cordon
editor@northofordinary.ca
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