what the wood has taught me – by Chris Robey



In fading light


my father and I

walk side

by side


long shadows cast

on frozen ground


It is late November and

the trees are bare

and open


At their edge,

the woodpile sits

as it has

for months


since we stacked

the logs –


thick sawed rounds

of red oak felled by

a storm in midsummer


My father wrests

a slab from the pile

then kneels,

running his hand over

the jagged saw marks. He


places his finger on the outermost

ring then counts inward

toward the pith.


“This tree was a seed

when Lee surrendered,”

he says with gentle



then hands

me the heavy axe


We swing

high arcs and

at their zenith



down through

our roots, aiming

at the cracks

that formed


as the wood froze



then thawed

and froze

again —


a cycle

of release



a cold pause


The axehead glances

a ringing blow


and we take turns

answering swing

for swing, until

they carry



The heartwood yields

a rich, dry smell —

it is fine, straight-grained

until we near the bottom


where the whorls

wound tight, now

laid bare –

a knotted core,


a history


that held the