December gave us both a gray day, thick as hardpan, sitting-down thick, a neutral sadness running pole to pole, a day that cried for work or laughter. Work wins out, I told son James, barely three and barely to my thigh. I dressed him for the full adventure; gloves soft as strung rabbit’s neck, stocking cap puffed out of lamb, jacket thick with duck’s outside, a twist of blue knotting under chin, two-ply boots denser than a tire.
Jamie leaned penguin-ish, starchy tight, not quite sure of feet or balance point, where the fulcrum of his day angled, what could tip him this way or that. I sat him, a nugget of a boy, deep in the van among chainsaw, rip ax, six-pound maul, and the pair of blunt wedges I had worn feverishly down through reams of trees.
Oh, James likes iron; it calls attention to itself, hidden core ringing at his feet, hard touch remembered on cold days, surface demanding sweat of hands. He likes iron forcing ways through, iron beating on or back brittle echoes, that sprouts handles, oddest points and sharp edges; iron changing shapes of shapes, moving together or apart, iron crying for sweet will of muscle. James is bound to move earth, carve pieces to wanting, his need.
Magnetic he comes. Tools move to him, are drawn by his hands, deep heart’s thirst, shoulder coming poised behind the ingot, tense shaking little boys radiate. Some monger’s fire simmers in his eyes; his lungs have bellow burst, puff of dream. A dynamo hums in him, sings, trembles down the limbs he brings to huge tasks, a flywheel set in motion, gearing’s grab. He clanged and banged and rang aloud in the back of the van, echoing himself among harsh tools, rang hard as them, wavered as a tuning fork to day’s wand, gave me in the driver’s seat fair music of the shop, beat of the forge at fire, early shape of man in the ringing light of coming on to size, pig iron breakout from the harvest of heat, furnace essence, the brazier soul coming through a sense of fire, son where wrought welding works.
Oh, we bend here in a parade of tasks, endless marching to orders we are born ever to obey, the expense of our energies. Each of us must light his own ample fire, as James must light his. Failure is here, not burning off the energy, not using up all the waiting ghost that resides within. Now James, my son, comes beside me moving up in time, rattling with tools he would spend his life with or always at, the promise of something Excalibured, the deeply-driven driven out or drawn.
The hunger swell that swells some souls must swell in him. At length, he will move the mountain in the way, will bend keen tool edge on the steepest edge of Earth as he moves Authurian in his life. But then, we came, at last, to dream and destination; a wide field, a thick butt of maple tree, monarch dropped along wide avenue, once the carrier of a hundred fallen nests, donned a thousand rains, worst of storms, wore scars of lightning zippered on its bark. Into this field was brought tree’s death. And we come, James and I, to scavenge, to pick as ants, gulls, high-guide vultures what is left of the dying or the dead; a father and son looting what is left of the maple’s being, faint yellow core. A pair of deed-takers, two men of tools, making hard music of twin cutters as I whipped my saw into a quick frenzy. It loves good wood, slab of thick hides, the inner rings hundreds high and counting.
James held his ground, the maul too heavy to lift but handle operable as rudder stick, able to steer the day to someplace else. His eyes measured all three feet down into the butt the saw’s cut would hasten, blinked at the majestic toss of sawdust and chips hosing out beneath rapid chain, figuring what it takes to earn saw’s rights, how much tool it was, what its sound meant in a field where our maple died some more.
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