How I earned, lost and regained my pilots license
And developed a life long love of stacking wood.
Growing up, they're all there was always a right way and a wrong way of doing things. This was especially true when it came to the organisation of things. My father, a firefighter, had a saying: Everything comes off of the truck quickly so it goes on to the truck slowly. Precision, order and uniformity was expected of stored items.
Which is likely how I fell in love with stacking firewood.
It started with the swing of a bat, a shatter of glass that filled me with both awe and terror and ended with me recieving, losing and again attaining my pilots license.
It began when I was in the fifth grade. My parents were out. We had a babysitter. I was excited I was determined to hit a baseball over my house. I wouldn’t dare try this if my folks were home. That night I attempted. That night I failed. Twice. The first attempt caromed off the gutter above the big picture window. Seven inches higher and I might have just skimmed it over the roof. That’s how I was thinking. The next attempt wasn’t so lucky. Seven inches lower, my line-drive annihilated the picture window.
I stood there, frozen, bat in hand waiting for the anvil to fall from the sky and crush me like the coyote. I was done like dinner. Facing certain death, I stayed up, waiting for my parents to arrive and rid the earth of me.
Lucky for me, my parents decided that this was a good ‘learning opportunity’. By the way, if learning is doled out as a punishment, is it any wonder that as I child I believed that learning sucks?
Anyway, as part of my ‘learning the value of things’ I was required to work for my father. The rate of pay? One dollar per hour. Apparently, to have that glass replaced 1985 with a pane of glass from James F. Leahy and Dartmouth. Nova Scotia was $52. In my thirteen year old mind, I might as well have been condemned to a life of hard time.
So. I had to work. My work involved heating our home. We heated it with wood. For fifty two hours I was in charge of the family woodpile. My work? Stack the wood, bring in the wood, stack it again, load the woodbox and keep the wood stoves burning.
And most of this wood moving and stacking took place when the weather was finger numbingly cold. I had small hands, a weak back and a father with high expectations for productivity. His expectations for productivity didn’t mesh well with his belief that things needed to be put away in an orderly fashion. When it came to those two values, his desire for order was king.
I listened to his instructions. Every word of them. And? I never seemed able to make a pile of wood that was orderly enough. It was quite an impossible assignment. Here kid, go play leggo where every block is a different shape. And by the way, whatever you make? It needs to be even, symmetrical and uniform.
Each weekend he’d tell me what to do with detailed instructions. Each weekend he’d joke that now that I knew what to do he could give me a pilot's licence.
Though I only asked why once, he always delivered his dadly punchline: Because now you’re licensed to take that wood and pile it over there!
Though most say that dad jokes don’t cause harm, I’m doubtful. I believe that the explosion of the Chernobyl power plant was likely not due to what they say but an over presence of dad jokes in the atmosphere.
Regardless of that, the dad joke he made in the morning left space for his lunchtime dad joke. Just before I’d run into the house for lunch, he’d check my work. I don’t ever remember it being done well, right or good enough the first time. Perhaps there were times that happened, I just don’t remember them.
I do remember my dad checking out the woodpiles, shaking his head, knocking them over while proclaiming my pilot’s licence revoked. His attempt at humour barely veiled his aggression and disgust. And, somehow the experience was made almost bearable for me.
All right. Try it again. stack it up. Maybe you'll get your pilot licence back soon…
Though the experience was both humiliating and discouraging, I became pretty damn good at stacking wood.
But now I'm an adult and I like stacking wood in my own way.
I’m not concerned that much with symmetry. I stack it in ways that seem pleasing to me.
Sometimes my creations work. The woodpile stands.
Other times, they collapse under the weight of their ambition.
Either way, I’m grateful to my dad for providing me with a learning experience that has inadvertently become one of my favourite hobbies.
Here’s a video of a wood stack gone wrong.
Here’s a video of how I turned it into something very pleasing.