Supper’s Sting

It’s dark when I get home. I leave the car at the end of the driveway where I shoveled out a space for it and hike into the cabin. The stars are brilliant, my only light as I wade through the snow. The door creaks open on antique hinges and I stamp the snow off my boots onto the chipped linoleum floor. Then I push open the door to the cabin’s only insulated room and dump my papers. Whatever warmth the cabin had in it when I left that morning has long fled into the winter forest. If the night air is 10 degrees, the cabin air is 12. Stacked under the porch is a week’s worth of firewood. I pile split spruce and balsam in my arms, put a handful of kindling on top, and dump it by the woodstove. The stove’s cast iron sides are chillingly cold. The wood is dry, over-seasoned, and I can be sloppy building the fire. The softwood catches easily. In the kitchen, the dishes I washed that morning haven’t dried, they’ve frozen—and stuck together. I break them apart. The water in the water buckets is also frozen. I keep a pot of water on the cook stove; the frail heat from the pilot light is enough to keep it ice free. I start supper. Thirty minutes later, amid great billows of steam, I spoon rice and beans onto a plate. Next to it, also steaming, sits a mug of tea. The salad is frozen, its greens ice-rimmed and crunchy. In the living room, I put the plate and mug on the top...

At home

The chainsaw lies on its side on clean newspaper on the unblemished concrete floor of the neatly organized basement. Bar oil, a scrench, two Stihl manuals uncreased, undog-eared and without oil spots, are lined up alongside the bar. The bar is sheathed in its original protective case. It’s thirty years old, he says. And, I know, well used. Until their recent move, he and his wife lived with a woodstove for decades. It is being given to me and uncharitable thoughts of OCD, anal, nerd clog my mind. Thirty years—in that time, best as I can remember, we’d gone through three saws. A fourth, stripped to its carcass, lies in a box under my kitchen table. At home, it fires in just a handful of pulls. I bought some cleaner thinking I’d have to strip and rebuild the carburetor, but it runs smoothly. When I release the trigger, it idles without stalling and the chain comes to a stop. I had doubted such precision of tuning existed in nature. Two days later, not paying attention, I drop a tree on it smashing the housing.   The tree is a red maple that blew over in a spring gale. The root wad is ten feet high and its crown rests on a family of yellow birch that bow to their knees beneath its weight. Red maples never achieve the majesty of their maple-brethren. Short, often with several trunks you can ring with your hands growing from the same root system, they look like shrubs. This one has three trunks, each larger than the chainsaw is designed for. It will be...