I’m splitting wood in a t-shirt. It’s the second week of November and the temperature has yet to fall below fifty degrees. I wonder if winter will ever come. What begins as a few split logs will grow into a modest hill. As winter progresses the hill will evolve into a mountain to replace the stove wood stacked under the eave of the lean-to that shall be gone by March. This morning, I had collected wood from a black birch and red oak taken down by a service hired by the electric company to remove trees threatening their power lines. With the sound of the chainsaw still vibrating in my ears, I cut up two truckloads before taking out my six-ounce maul.The hardwood leaves have fallen. Even the oak tree in our front yard has lost its mantle. The deer have been grazing on acorns dropped by the white oaks on the far side of our pond. Using Leonard Lee Rue III’s method of gauging the acorn crop, I counted eight nuts under my size 10½ boot — a decent amount according to New Jersey’s foremost naturalist. (Dr. Rue estimated that if his size 11 boot covered nine acorns it was a good year while covering a dozen was an excellent crop.)

I raise the six-ounce maul and the log on the stump splits in two. I place one half back on the stump and raise the maul.

Like blue comets, earlier this morning a flock of eight bluebirds streaked across the field behind our home. They stopped to inspect the wooden houses nailed to posts along the edge of the grass, where a pair will hopefully return to build their nest in the spring.


Bringing the maul back down, the log flies into two more pieces.

Last week a black bear, one, maybe two years old, lumbered onto the earthen dam, lured there by the same acorns the deer have been eating. Our dogs seem to sense whenever a bear is near. From inside the house, they sniff the air, racing from window to window, tails erect, hair on their backs standing up. First Winslow and then Finnegan begin to growl. When their growls turn to barks, the big lug stares up at the house and then turns down the ravine on the other side of the dam, a silent shadow lost in the hundred acres behind our woodlot.

After splitting the second half of the log, I look around. The dogs are out, patrolling the acreage behind the electric fence Trish and I installed to keep the deer from devouring her plants and my vegetables. I call them, but they have rabbit scat to chew and woodchuck holes to explore. Bending forward, I feel the beginning of a cramp in my lower back, a cramp that by evening will require two Bayer aspirins to subside. Grabbing the pieces of the log that have fallen around the stump, I chuck them onto the pile.

After splitting another log into two halves, I lower the maul and sit on a stump. The sun is strong. I raise the bill of my cap and allow it to shine down onto my face. With little rain this fall, I haven’t been fishing in a number of weeks.

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With my eyes closed, I imagine it is spring. It is not difficult to do, the afternoon more like early May than the middle of November. In my mind, I cast my line. The fly I choose is an Adams. The traditional pattern floats down a current swollen from a spring spate. Its hackled wing is cocked to one side as the dry fly slips down a seam along the edge of the far bank until it is lost in a sudden boil. A brook trout streaks under the surface, but then is lost when I’m pushed off the stump. First Finnegan, the younger of our two Labs, and then Winslow Homer are on me, their tongues like two wet sloppy rags slathering me in dog drool.

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  1. Robyn L. Hill-Stitson Says:

    Love your work. I feel like I am right on the scene with you wherever you are. Keep on writing.

  2. Michael Pease Says:

    Well done, good picks…….thoughts
    Upper Sunday River valley

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