It was a time to relax, a time when time did not matter. When he was honest, he reached beyond the peaceful monotony of the task and admitted it to himself. He really did it for her; he would do anything for her. Now he did it to forget.
Montana’s cold usually kept him in motion, kept him occupied, gave him less time to think. On this morning, blowing snow blurred his glasses, obscuring his vision, slowing his axe, giving him time, too much time, making his focus wander.
A piece of wood stood vertical on the stump. His head shook slightly; he could not remember placing it there. He spoke to the wood, ‘I wish she could leave my thoughts as easily’. Before he began the sentence, he knew he did not mean it, he would always remember her.
Brushing wood splinters from the stump, he smiled; she was meticulous. He thought of her little rituals; nothing could be too clean. She washed dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, she cleaned their toothbrushes daily. Then they would backpack. Somehow, sitting in front of their tent, sipping hot chocolate, watching peaks capture early light,
altered the rules. Toothbrushes remained fresh, creek water cleaned dishes. Mountains made life simple.
His mind turned to love, an elusive emotion, difficult to define, difficult to grasp. He tried to think of other women, other women he had loved, or thought he had loved. He did not want the ache in his thoughts, but his emotions would not allow her to leave.
Twisting slightly, his hand accepted the weight of the axe. His free hand wrapping the handle, sliding smoothly towards the cutting edge, controlling the blade, giving him control over this small corner of his life.
They met because of her eyes, a chance moment, a brief moment on a trail in the Yellowstone. Their pale blue seemed out of place against her tanned skin and dark hair, their depth clashed with the softness of the color. He was shy around women, reluctant to approach, but he had to know what was behind those eyes. Allowing her to walk away would condemn him to a life of regret. He asked if he could hike with her.
It was a practiced motion, smooth, efficient, effortless. His hand near the blade easily lifting the weight as he raised the tool above his head storing energy for the coming blow.
Their love had evolved slowly, it was not defined by a moment in time, it was something that became part of them. He knew it when he woke in the morning and could hear her soft breathing, when he slid his foot beneath the covers, gently touching her leg before climbing quietly from their bed. He knew it when he looked into her eyes, his attention often drawn to the small creases radiating from their corners, it amazed him how they enhanced her beauty. Small wrinkles representing their life, their commitment to each other. They contained joy, sorrow, arguments, apologies, all that held them together.
They contained their past, yet separated them from what they were and what they would become.
Following them back, he thought of joy, the birth of their daughter. She had wanted a girl, wanted to give him a daughter, wanted him to have the relationship she would always cherish. The relationship only a father and daughter can have. He remembered anguish.
She was barely six when a simple mosquito bite gave her encephalitis; her doctors gave them little hope, they said she would die. One week of agony, suffering that brought them closer, helped them refocus their life. The doctors were wrong then, but doctors are not always wrong.
Focusing on his target, his hands slid together leveraging the energy, arcing the blade until metal met wood, splitting the log, pieces tumbling apart. Another piece sat on the stump waiting, waiting to help him forget.
The rhythm of the work brought back her music, her piano. It was a gift they could not afford but it made her whole, it completed their home. After rejecting many candidates she sat before the Steinway that would become hers; he knew she would play Bach. Breaking through the gentle tension of the keys she felt the music before the sweet tones resonated through the wood. It was more than an audible experience, it was a soft summer rain. Individual notes combining, separate yet intertwined, warmly caressing her, flowing, conforming to her skin, feeding her thoughts, building emotion, becoming part of her. It was her music, it was her piano.
She treasured time by the fire, sitting on the floor, talking and enjoying the warmth. His knowledge of physics told him burning wood radiated heat and warmed the room, but
he refused to believe it, at least not in their room, not with her. They shared the moment with the flames; it was something they did. He split the wood for love.
The axe fell; he could hear the car approach. Another blow, he knew they would talk, still another, there would be tears. The engine died, the blade split wood, a car door
closed, one more swing, wood fell to earth the axe buried deep in the stump. Releasing the handle, he turned.
Looking deep into her eyes, looking beyond remnants of recent tears, he saw two women, two nearly identical women separated by age. The eyes before him did not have lines at their corners, but that did not detract from her beauty. He knew they would be there someday; he hoped her man would understand their meaning, would recognize commitment. He had heard her words before, this time he heard her wisdom, her caring. ‘It’s been a long time since the funeral Daddy, you should visit Mom’s grave, it’s okay to say goodbye’. He held his daughter.
Holding her, loving her, he realized he could not define love, could not quantify it, it could only be felt and shared. It was unique within, but not limited by, a relationship. His thoughts turned back, back to his daughter’s young eyes, the eyes she shared with her mother. In his mind they aged, revealed the life he hoped she would live. They brought him from the past to the present; she carried him into the future.