How much would he cut and burned!
Slabs of downed, dry oak. Rounds of pitch-soaked pine, red fir, and spruce. He hated spruce, which he called "piss-fir."
The cutting down, the limbing, the cutting up. Hauling, heaving. Splitting wood and loading it. Unloading and stacking it. More splitting for kindling. Bringing wood inside. Finally burning it all to ash. Hauling out the ash.
Fire in the iron stove, in the stone fireplace. Piles of brush and tree limbs from cleared land, smoldering all night, winter, outside. To keep the cleared place clear demanded cutting back brush, every year. The Sierra Nevada abhores a clearing.
To keep warm the cold house he built, of wood, of concrete, on the clearing, he cut wood. To cut, to chop, to clear, to haul, to burn, to work. Infinitives become imperatives.
Cut and clear. Build and burn. Fall timber. Limb logs. Split, haul, load, and carry wood. Cut and stack. Burn. Build. Clear. Cut and stack. Lift and haul.
Some sixty years of it.
And I remember one day we sat in front of the stone fireplace he'd built. We each read a book. Didn't talk. Oak logs gave over to fire grudgingly. Coals--red-orange cubes of carbon--tumbled, Hell's dice, settled. Glowed in pulses. Snow piled up silently outside, covering the clearing, enclosing the house. Silver smoked leaked into a silver sky.
How much he cut and cleared, burned and split and hauled! He did it to keep the place. It was clear duty done clearly. Heat the house. Warm the ones choice and accident deliver to your responsibility. Life is simple. It consists of work. If you want it to be less or more then that, well, good for you, and good luck to you.
Reading, side by side, we loaded paragraphs into our minds' language-furnaces, fueling generations of meaning and memory. Before the fire, we read. Our minds were located in clearings of identity--I and not-I; father and not-father; son, not-son. We read. We didn't talk. The fire mumbled. The red-orange dice tumbled.
He cut and cleared--back then, in the Age of Carbon, when wood stoves and fireplaces were how you heated your house.
Finally he fell after 77 years. Lying on the gurney, delirious from drugs but clear-headed enough to fight, he looked up at us, his sons, and said, "Help me up, for Chrissakes."
We had him cremated. I wasn't there when they did it, but I assume they load the body into the furnace like a log. This would have amused him.
I write it down, words composed of bits of light in the Age of Silicon. The screen is a clearing. Word-embers glow briefly in the hearth of all things passing. Night accepts the smoke from what perishes. Memory--felled and cut, hauled and split, lifted and stacked, lit and burned.
All that work.