Ten Cords of Dry

A cord of wood is a pile, neatly stacked, 4′ wide by 4′ high by 8′ long. A city person would be amazed at how much split dry wood it takes to heat a small cabin on an Island off Vancouver for a whole winter.

We met a tall, strapping wood sculptor at an art show in Joshua Tree, in the Mojave desert. He talked glowingly of the time he spent on Hornby island, off Vancouver, and how the artist community in Joshua Tree was almost as good as what he had experienced there. We asked him why he had come to this place in the desert, so different from that cold damp island.

Ten Cords of Dry

It was the heft of the axe,
the solidity of the chopping stump,
the pull of his shoulders as he swung
from Spring to first snow,
one hour every morning before coffee and breakfast,
that kept him sane those fifteen years on Hornby Island.

The tangibility of the task,
the sheer size of the pile
growing bit by bit,
to be sucked up by the ever hungry winter stove,
that part of living – no uncertainty,
ten cords of dry
the reason why.

Angela crept softly
into his periphery,
a bit of red shawl in a summer park,
gentle swaying at a late night gathering,
then finally a touch and spark,
the two of them in a crowded coffee house,
the whole world dissolving into fog.

Winter was warmed by
long nights of talk,
their skin touching hot under blankets,
cold air seeping around the edges,
and the ever dwindling pile
of split wood in the barn.

She said I love you so – but know
that I am a traveler in this place
of high pine and rain.
My home is on a desert hill,
where the Mojave slopes down
to meet the Colorado,
where the relentless sky
finds every hiding place
and purifies my soul.

I’m leaving now – to greet
the flowers of the sage and ocotillo,
to burn away the residue
and find out what I have that stays,
and purge what has to go.

As Angela brings out the tea,
he’ll tell you now,
ten years gone by,
in the desert light of Joshua Tree,
that he came to flee the endless cold.
Ten cords of dry
the reason why.

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