Long-Handled Axes and Longstanding Tradition

Do you ever stop to wonder why little boys love sharp objects? From knives and hatchets to wrecking balls and skid loaders, boys have an allure toward weapons and destruction. Of course, all of the aforementioned can be very productive and good. Nevertheless, last week as I ripped through alder and ash with an ordinary long-handled axe, I believe it was my desire to destroy that made it feel so good.

My Grandfather is 91 years old this year. He’s joined my cousin, Seth Hulst and I on many Iowa plains adventures. In fact, it is his farmland that creates them. He comes from a time where you swung an axe out of necessity not merely sport. He comes from a time where pheasants and deer were shot when they happened in front of you and the gun was stored just behind the pickup seat. As Seth and I chopped wood the old-fashioned way, I thought about how many pickup loads my grandpa had produced. Year after year Grandpa Bob had a cement cellar filled with stacked wood eight feet tall for his own. Once in a while, I helped him stack loads that he sold to others. And at age 91, he couldn’t resist the desire to fire up his Stihl chainsaw and wreck some wood. The feeling  just never dies.

It is much more than an instinctual desire to break things. I think about it in terms of a complete cycle. Oftentimes, we chop wood with Grandpa that he has watched grow from a sapling. He has stored memories of his little girls playing tag under a medium-sized Mulberry that has turned gnarly and overgrown next to his six-year-old great grandson. When either the wind or our chainsaws harvest that tree, he is able to look upon its use with satisfaction.

So I would argue that the more touches one has in the cycle, the more satisfying it is. Take deer hunting for example. If I go to a brand new place and shoot a deer and bring it to the locker to process, it is a great experience. Now imagine I own a small piece of land on which I plant “deer-type” food. Next, I spend hours in the Spring and Summer snapping photos on trail cams and watching the deer in my binos. Finally, hunting season comes and the deer walks in front of my deer stand at 42 yards completely oblivious. When his head peeks up, just for a moment I feel the weight of the relationship I have with this animal. And with a whispering prayer my arrow sails through its body. The drag back to the truck is different. I am thinking about what tree in the grove that I will hang him overnight. The next morning as the skinning and quartering process begins, I am thankful for this meat. I take 6 hours to separate bone from body and muscles from bone. A freezer with 18 hefty packages looks really good. Perhaps the most rewarding is the pot roast or a stroganoff where the whole family smiles. And that animal and that adventure is remembered 18 times and the cycle is complete. Tell me what experience is more satisfying? My family has a tradition of completing a cycle and I will pass it on.

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