Janie starts insisting that we need two cords of wood to get us through the winter. We have lived in our wood-heated house in Waitsfield, Vermont under the green foothills of Glen Ellen Mountain all spring, summer, and early fall awaiting the birth of Janie’s baby. We moved here together so I could help her through her pregnancy and get away from an unhappy relationship. I’m a transplant from New York; steam heat and broken boilers were my winters. It never occurred to me that we would need cords of wood.
Small heavy hands
Jittering fans of fingers
Piling on top of one another
In a coxcomb formation,
Collapsing in relief.
Then filing up again
In their strange curled posture of worry.
Janie informs me we will also have to collect kindling. Somewhere deep inside of me I feel she is just being a pain in the butt. I am thinking this is another one of her eccentric whims. Then one bright morning Joe Gage’s truck pulls up and unloads two cords of wood on our front lawn, courtesy of the town. Janie, who has lived through many Vermont winters, seems deeply relieved.
A chord of wood is about six feet long and about five feet high and about two feet deep. It is a large stack of small logs.
The next morning she is waiting for me with a worried look on her face and two large cardboard boxes. ”Today, we need to collect kindling,” she says.
I sigh and go along.
The day is crisp and we move through the bare, black trees of late November filling our boxes. She shows me which kindling to pick up. We collect thin, dry branches that crack and snap.
Crisp, crackling, dried
Fallen twigs and small branches
Being collected on a bright day.
When the sunshine is crisp
Crackling through the leaves,
Falling in noisy shards on your hair
On the back of your hands
While you snap the branches
And make teepee stacks
In your collecting box.
Janie’s stomach is huge. She is leaning on an axe, waiting for me.
“I want to show you how to split wood,” she says.
I’m convinced she is utterly, hormonally crazed.
I place a small chunk of wood on a nearby tree stump. Then I raise the axe over my head and let the heavy axe head fall forward, aiming at the center of the log. Miraculously the wood splits into two equal halves.
By late afternoon I can do it. I can split wood.
That evening Janie builds our first fire.
She sits by the fireplace rolling long wands from newspapers she’s collected all year. She piles the wands in the fireplace topped with a neat stack of kindling. Then she creates four layers of interwoven split logs. She lights the paper wands. The fire ignites immediately. The house is filled with yellow light and warmth. The smell of pine radiates out and bathes us. Through the evening she continues to place larger logs on the fire. We are hypnotized by the flames. This must be what people did before TV.
At 11 p.m., she scrapes out the embers and we go to sleep.
At 4 a.m., she goes into labor.
I drive her to the hospital over the dark winding roads.
Once there, I put out the photo of her Mom and Dad for focus and give her sips of water. We go through all the Lamaze exercises we have been practicing together for months. After many hours at the hospital the doctors tells us she will need a caesarian.
At 6 p.m. that evening, Brian is born a healthy, chubby, beautiful boy. By 8 p.m. Mother and baby sleep peacefully.
I arrive home exhausted at 10 p.m. The house is like a freezer. I wrap myself in all the coats and blankets I can find and huddle in bed. But I am frozen to the bone anyway. Shaking, I make my way downstairs to the fire place wondering if I will freeze to death tonight. Trembling, I make the newspaper wands and cover them with kindling. Then comes the interlaced stack of logs. With the match scratch, sparks and then blue flame, the logs lights up in a moment and burn golden bright. I feel myself getting warm.
Copyright © Gale Cohen, In Autumn, written in 1976, transcribed and edited in 2013
Gale Cohen is a freelance writer, living and working in North East LA . She has been published in several anthologies including Bringing The Soul Back Home by Katya Williamsion, published by O book in 2009. She is also Co-Director of the Pasadena Writing Project.