Yesterday afternoon I fled my desk around 3:00 and bee-lined for the sawmill. I’ve had my eye on the mill for the past couple of weeks; it’d been at least a month since I’d sawn any lumber, and we’d ‘bout polished off our stash. This place has an insatiable thirst for lumber: For fences, for outbuildings, for the boys to make some ridiculous contraption having to do with some ridiculous game. I stumble across these contraptions all the time – most recently, a pretend guillotine for a fantasy in which Rye had captured Fin’s alter-ego, Dubbins, and was threatening to behead him if he didn’t behave – and while part of me chafes at the sheer volume of these devices, at all the nails and screws and boards that are sacrificed to my sons’ play, a greater part of me is merely grateful that I’m not tripping over the ubiquitous plastic shit that fills most children’s lives these days. Wow, that sounded curmudgeonly. I’m gonna have to try that more often.
Anyway. The mill. And the woodshed, which has a roof (arguably the most important part of a woodshed, I grant you that) but no siding. I have a nice pile of balsam logs from last winter’s exploits, some of which, I knew, would net me 12-inch boards or better. Have you ever lifted a fresh sawn 1 x 12 board off the top of a log you pulled from the forest yourself? Maybe, but my guess is not, and while it’s different strokes for different folks, I’m betting most of ya’ll would feel the same thing I feel when such a thing happens to me. Which, if it were expressed in words, would be hell, yes. To me, the sawmill is one of those tools that despite its noise and fury plainly illustrates the connective thread that runs through all our lives and ties us to the natural world. Forest. Tree. Lumber. Shelter. I like seeing that thread illustrated. I like following it from one end to the other just to see where it leads me.
In any event, I spent a half hour or so dinking with the mill. The hydraulic jack that adjusts blade tension was low on oil and the jack would not hold pressure, so I unbolted it and filled it with fluid. The line that feeds a stream of water onto the blade to cool and clean it during sawing was plugged with sawdust, so I removed it and poked a wire into it until it was clear. And then there was the simple remembering of all the levers and wheels and whatnot; there are numerous adjustments to be made with each and every turn of the log, and after a half-dozen weeks of not making these adjustments, I felt clunky at the controls, pausing after each pass for a second or two, unsure of precisely what I was supposed to do next. But after a few boards came off the mill, I was back in the groove, and I had the feeling of playing an instrument, albeit one that produces only a single, long note and is capable of removing a leg.
By 7:20 or so, with daylight waning fast, I nailed the last board to the north-facing side of the woodshed. It would’ve gone a little quicker, but I was using a bunch of nails I’d pulled from one of the boys’ long-forgotten contraptions, and most of them required a bit of straightening. The other sides of the shed, I suspect, will have to wait until next year or until I get to them, whichever comes first (my money’s on the former). The list of tasks separating us from winter is probably longer than the accumulation of waking hours separating us from winter can accommodate, though I suspect we’ll make it even out somehow. We always do.
And if we don’t? Well, that’ll be just fine, too.