Looking forward and back is an annual rite this time of year
BY MITCH MODE
Special to the Star Journal
Come August, time seems to move faster. Come August, there seems a quickening as if time awakes from a summer slumber, shakes off the cobwebs, begins to pick up the pace. Summer is slow; August lifts the tempo.
Come August, it’s a time of looking forward. Comes also a time of looking back. You look forward in August to seasons ahead. But you look back at the season now winding down. One looks back in August at a summer now passing, passing faster, each day. Look back, one does, on what was done, yes; but also what was not. We go into summer with intentions of what we wish to do. In August we look back; inventory time. We measure, in August, what we accomplished in June and July. Or failed to.
At times, we go back even farther.
I skied under the late August sun, roller skis on asphalt; poles clicking out the tempo, metal on blacktop. Skied because the days seem shorter. Skied looking forward; six months until the Birkebeiner. Skied looking back: How many years of doing this?
“In August we look back; inventory time. We measure, in August, what we accomplished in June and July. Or failed to.”
I worked it out as I skied, worked back in time; years, then decades. That’s where your mind goes at times when you are alone on the road.
How many years had I done this, this foolishness of roller skiing? Forty at least. Odd to think of that. Forty years or more down the same roads and the same purpose and none of that had changed. How short it all seems; how fast the years passed.
A few days later at the hunt shack, splitting wood. One cannot split and stack firewood while only in the present. Every bolt of wood cleaved from the oak falls from the maul to the ground and to the future, to the time of cold and chill and short days. Maul falls; wood splits; days ahead drop to the ground.
The trees fell two years ago under high November wind and chill. Oaks; big ones. We passed them on the way to the deer stand, noted them, made plans. Come spring we cut them to long lengths, dragged them back to the shack. There they lay as I put off dealing with them. Until this week.
Chainsaw roars and blade lowers to the wood; chips and sawdust fly as if comets in the sky. A length drops to the ground. Repeat. Again. Then put the saw down and heft the maul. Set the bolt upright and raise the maul overhead.
When the wood splits there is the tangy scant of oak in the air. The grain is distinct and well marked as if etched.
Split it then stack it; wait for it to dry. Then, on a cold day sometime in the months or years to come, load it in the wood stove. Warmth comes in the dark of night.
It takes time to split the wood, a repetitive task that becomes meditative in that repetition. At times when a new bolt stands tall to wait the maul’s drop, I look at the rings circling out from the center.
More rings than I have years in my life. I stand for a moment to consider that though in truth it is more simply an excuse to take a break on a hot day. I look at the growth rings and wonder how far back they go and know that I should perhaps count them. I do not, do not count them. Sometimes it is enough simply to know that the tree has years beyond mine. If I stand longer, as I do later in the morning when I am slowing down, I think that the act of splitting oak is like August; both a prompt to look forward and a time to look back over the years.
August does that, at least it does to me; puts me in the mind to look backward as much as forward. I find that in simple tasks; roller skiing, splitting wood. But I find it as well in the movement of time that is evidenced in the world around me; the solitary leaf turned crimson; the berries turning black and ripe; the feel of the breeze over the lake that has a freshness of autumn even on the summer day. In the change I find myself in contemplation of days ahead and days past, days and seasons and years.
It is the middle of August and change is in the air and with the change a time of reflection and in that pensiveness that comes in looking back at where things have been, and of days now past. In a month we’ll be full on into autumn when change rides the cooling winds of fall and dashes away the summer heat. Then the time to reflect will be gone as we hasten toward winter.
But now, in August, we are in the time that still moves slowly enough that we can look both forward and back.
I set the splitting maul in the shack and lock the door. Then I drive home.
Later, in the night sky, Perseid meteors spark and flash, shining bright and then gone to darkness leaving only the memory of their passing. Such is the time of August.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.