The Smooth Swing of an Ax

Ron Karpinski  1999


My friend, Eberhard, owns a garden plot on the outskirts of Stuttgart.  It's been in his family for forty years.  Long and narrow, it covers an entire hillside.

One reaches the garden at the end of a long, rutted dirt road.  A low green chain link fence guards the front entrance.  From the gate, a narrow path with flowers on both sides leads up to a small cottage.

A large covered porch encloses the front door of the cottage.  Inside, there is only one room.  The kitchen sink and cabinets cover the right wall.  A table and four chairs fill the left rear corner.  The toilet is outside.

Attached to the rear of the cottage is a small workshop, and to the right of that is a terrace.  Above the terrace, a few feet up the hill, a fire pit sits in the open.  A tall, thick hedge runs the length of the left property line.  Old fruit trees cover the rest of the hill.

Eberhard enjoys his time alone in the garden; but, when the work piles up, he asks me to help out.  Some tasks, like trimming the hedge, require teamwork.  One man holds the ladder while the other, high above, clips the branches.  In return for a day's labor, Eberhard treats me to lunch.

Once in a while, a really big job comes along.  Last November, Eberhard and I had to chop down three of the older fruit trees.  A cherry tree, a pear tree, and an apple tree had died.  If we didn't remove them, the termites would take over and spread to other trees.

The project took three days.  Each morning, I drove to Eberhard's house, and we trudged together down to the garden where we changed into old clothes and donned heavy work gloves.  A light snow began to fall.

Limb by limb, we carefully sawed and hacked the old trees into pieces small enough to transport down the hill in a wheel barrow.  In the open pit, a roaring fire slowly consumed the dead wood.  When our hands got cold, we paused to warm them over the flames.

There is nothing like the smooth swing of an ax to make a man feel truly alive.  No sound is quite like the thunk of a sharp blade sinking deep into the heart of a log.  Swinging an ax for half an hour brings forth a pure, honest sweat that stirs the very soul. Shared with a good friend, it is the best of all medicines.

At the end of each day, the two of us sat in the cottage and chatted over hot tea and bread cakes.  We plan on doing this until we are eighty-five.


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