Breaking Ice With A Quarry Bar

Glare ice across my wood yard tonight, at least the part of it not piled with five tons of seasoned oak. I congratulated myself for covering it before the freezing rain with several ubiquitous blue tarps. And I cursed myself for not stacking it sooner. One thing led to another, which is unpredictable and not completely safe when working in the dark in winter, and I found myself chopping ice in a swollen whiskey barrel about to burst its staves. As I raised and plunged the quarry bar methodically, the rhythm of the work set me free. I forgot whatever muttering resentments were bothering me. I remembered swinging this same steel bar down in the river bottom when I lived in the Mill. The well-head would freeze in this kind of weather, which meant chopping ice in the mill race to fetch a bucket of water to flush the commode. Every time I did this I thought about Francis Grinnell, the 19th-century miller who did the same thing in the same place so he could grind some farmer’s corn. He probably had muttering resentments, too, until he heard the steel bite through ice, then rushing water splashing free. Then he knew he didn’t want to be anywhere else in that moment.

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