As morning folded into afternoon, I set out for the shed beneath the garage with an ambitious aim in mind. Behind the door, with its peeling red paint, lay an ungainly heap of scrap wood and broken furniture. All winter I had been delaying the job of turning this pile of rubbish into neater and more useful pieces of firewood and kindling. But now was the time. Very soon, a solid fuel stove will be installed in our kitchen, and the idea of feeding it for free, at least for a while, was enough to tempt me out with the saw.
Inside the shed, the wood was strewn carelessly about, in all shapes and sizes. There was an old chest of drawers – warped by damp, and broken on top – and two squat cupboards, no longer usable. Several retired fence posts were stacked at the back, along with two or three thick logs which must have been cut from a fallen tree in the garden. Most of the wood though had built up during our work on the house over the past year: countless lengths of skirting board and v-lining, assorted scraps and offcuts, all thrown haphazardly into the shed, awaiting another use.
Delving among it, I found many of the pieces familiar. As I picked them up and turned them over, I remembered the day on which they were discarded or the room from which they came. I recalled their various histories, and how they intertwined with my own. All of them now will end up in the same place, warming the house they helped to build.
I gathered an armful of long sections – mostly skirting board from the dining room – and lay them outside on the ground; the smaller pieces I threw into a wheelbarrow by the doorway. When the barrow was full, I pushed it along to the work bench I’d set on the path and put it down on the far side, in easy reach.
The afternoon was still. Out on the water, only a light ripple twisted the reflection of the houses across the loch and the half-clear sky. It seemed rude to be interrupting the day’s calm with the growl of an electric saw, but I didn’t have much choice. To attempt to cut all of this by hand would be a full time occupation. I would certainly warm myself with the effort, but I might never have the time to enjoy the heat of it burning. I had no option but to be noisy.
Once plugged in and switched on, the blade cut easily, with a steady downward pressure. An incision, a wound, an amputation. It was rhythmic, almost hypnotic. The uniqueness of each piece of wood and its individual resistance to the blade became an irrelevance; every cut was exactly like the last.
There was at first something disappointing about this. It was a strangely detached activity. My actions were machine-like and repetitive. Where sawing by hand demands energy and effort, all that this task required of me was time and electricity, and enough concentration to keep my fingers clear of the blade. There was no sweat on my brow and no ache in my muscles. The only slight discomfort was a niggling boredom at the rather mindless work.
Yet the growing pile of wood was certainly satisfying. A few scattered chunks grew quickly into a mound of fire sized pieces. And when the first barrow load was finished, I filled another. And another. Wisps of sawdust rose like yellow smoke as the logs continued to clatter to the ground.
I kept on like this for two hours, then three, without a pause. And while the work itself could hardly be called enjoyable, the result and the purpose were enough to keep me going. They were enough, even, to bring enjoyment.
In another setting, such a job might be unbearably dull and robotic. But given reason for our efforts, the will becomes more robust and the work becomes easier. We need a point to our labour, it seems.
In the end it was only hunger that brought me, almost reluctantly, back to the house, leaving behind two neat stacks of wood in the shed, all ready for the fire.