By Lyle Lofgren


Note: I started writing this in late 1981, set it aside for awhile, and completed it in December, 1983. It's a little more complex than anything I've tried to write before or since. I'm not sure that it works very well, but, like the proverbial talking dog, the miracle is not that it does it well but that it can do it at all. The whole project might make more sense if I described its origins:

The germ was The Norse Myths (Pantheon Books, 1980), Kevin Crossley-Holland's masterful rewriting of ancient Nordic stories collected in Iceland around 1200 by Snurri Sturlusson. I was particularly taken by the last chapter, Ragnarok, which describes the cataclysmic destruction of everything, including the gods. But although the earth can be destroyed, the pattern (Plato's ideal essence) cannot, so two humans hide inside a cocoon in Yggdrasil, the ash tree that connects heaven and earth, and they survive to start over again.

The cosmic ash tree got me to thinking about the importance of wood to us and our ancestors, and my weakness for puns determined that I would have to write a trilogy.

The first story, MATT, is completely fictional, and it was where I discovered that I'm not very good at inventing believable characters or events.

PELLA is a vastly embellished version of a small story my Uncle Paul told me when I was about 12 years old. We were out working in the fields, loading oat bundles on a wagon, as I remember. Uncle Paul's stories were the mainstay of my sex education, since, just like today, the subject wasn't taught in schools. I don't know where this cautionary tale came from, as I haven't heard it elsewhere, but I took it to heart, and have always avoided anything too good to be true, thus disappointing stockbrokers as well as tavern entertainment managers.

The third story is almost pure memoir, my recollection of the time Pauley Layman of Sunrise, MN, invaded our farm to saw our wood, inadvertently teaching me some other important life lessons.

The trilogy title comes from William Wordsworth's poem, The Table's Turned:

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good
Than all the sages can.


Wood: it's easier said than done. Try it: purse your lips, grunting from middle throat, followed right away by tonguetouch to mouthroof. Grummed out by Old English, Old Saxons, Old Germans, Old Norsks, Old Cornishers, Old Gaels, Old Welchers. Their duty was clear. The wood had to be sawed, split, hauled out of the dark forests; to be hewn, bored, pegged, burned. They were Wednesday's children. Woden the lumberjack, hanging halfway between earth and sky on the ashtree; only a lousy squirrel for company; only a grunt to express his plight.

Tree corpses last longer than ours, but they too turn to dust. They can't testify to wood's importance. Look at a museum display of tools of past cultures. See what is missing: hafts, thongs, handles, and holders. That should convince you -- the Stone Age was really the Wood Age, as was the Bronze Age, with miniature cast horsemen wielding holes in their hands where once were wooden spears. The Iron Age, too, was mostly wood. Eve tempts Adam with treefruit, and Darwin's monkeys swing on boughs. Eucharist trees give us the wafers on which we print poems to praise them.

Furless and with little hair, our people always needed shelter, and caves are rare. If trees are nearby, shelter from wood comes easy. Birchbark strips over a frame of spruce boughs, lashed with basswood thongs; a fire smoldering in the center, smoke reluctantly working its way out the smokehole on top. A multistory frame house, built by talented carpenters; sturdy and tight, with a robust fire in the fireplace magically creating a healthful glow in the faces of the guests while the butler comes by with a tray of canapes to go with the sherry. And our present age, for all its ephemeral inanimate products of organic chemistry, is also the Age of Wood. Furniture is made of wood, or plastic imitating wood, or wood imitating plastic imitating wood. It all depends on what's cheapest.

I love living trees the way some people relate to domestic animals. But, like many pet fanciers, I have trouble handling the remains of departed friends. Mere wood and I never got along well together. In grade school, I devised a project in wood class that involved taking a 5" long piece of pine 2X4 and painting it red (for a doorstop, I think). I promptly wrapped it in newspaper for protection. My teacher couldn't understand why I didn't know that newspaper, being also wood, would soak up the paint and stick to the surface. In high school, I built a simple magazine stand, the easiest available project. Alas, my Industrial Arts teacher insisted I had to learn the Proper Way of Doing Things, which meant sanding and varnishing the ill-sawed plywood deformity no less than five times. It's looks never improved. I was still working on it the day after school had ended, in a desperate bid to pull a "C" from the grim-faced teacher, who also coached the football team. I did not play football.


Since we've never been on the same plane, I have no idea how sheltering, warming wood, pronounced with the same grunt, can be shaped into forms of exquisite frivolous frippery. I don't mean butcherings such as German cuckoo clocks or little cheerful Trolls. I speak of artistry where exact knowledge of each curve of grain, each fiber, is needed. A knowing carver can grow a shape out of the wood's structure with such harmony that the result is what the wood always wanted to be, the only form it could gracefully take. The master violin maker taps the fiddleback, listening to its tone. He bends it with his fingers to test its compliance -- each piece is different. A little wood needs to be shaved off in a certain spot, or perhaps entire relationships between parts of the back must be changed. How does he know how to make a casket that sings like a woman?

Laurie's uncle Matt had such a skill. All the relatives agreed he always had it. Laurie's father said it was because Matt had never married, so he had lots of time to spend on carving. He bought a house and filled it with wooden artifacts. His woodworking talent was of no use to his daytime job. Baldness struck early, even including his eyebrows, and he had no excess fat on his face, so he was easily able to carve a self-portrait (a skull of sanded white oak) without having to face the difficulty of chiseled hair. He collected a complete set of wood carving tools, deliberating over each one. As he aged, he tried more and more difficult carvings. He mastered the skill needed to revivify a mere piece of dried cellulose into not just a living being, but one of such importance it takes your breath away.

Well, at least when he looked at the best of his handiwork, it took his breath away. He noticed that, although other woodworkers praised his carving, friends or relatives only glanced at them, then turned away to other matters of more importance. He never tried to explain (to his brother, for example) why the ability to free the buried form in a piece of wood was so important that, by comparison, everyday work was nothing, only a means for buying wood, tools and sustenance -- but above all, good aged wood: tranquil oak, frivolous curly maple, stolid walnut, or brooding mahogany.

He found a burl somewhere with grain in an almost spherical shape. He quickly saw what to do with it: carve a set of nested concentric spheres, just like an ivory Chinese ball he had seen in a museum. Mettled, he worked every night and weekend on the project. Just sanding the burl into a pure spherical shape took over a month. Carving the lacy spheres was much tougher. Each smaller one was supported by its elder brother who surrounded it. He had to get his knife inside to carve not just the outer sphere, but all the smaller ones, so each sphere existed only as an idea, sketched in delicate strips of remaining wood. When he finally shaped the last part, the tiny solid sphere in the center, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He made many other sculptures after that, but he often fondled his lacy ball, and even talked to it when he was alone. He noticed it could foretell the weather. On fine days, it looked even more delicate than usual, as if the tracery composing the spheres were about to disappear. Maybe it was about to float away like a balloon. But when the spheres squeezed together and the ball turned dark and heavy, Matt knew it would soon rain.

Uncle Matt had asked Laurie to come see him. On a dry, gusty day, after the varsity football game, Laurie, dressed in white sweater, short purple skirt and carrying large purple pom-poms, stopped at his house. She hadn't seen Uncle Matt for years, and was surprised at his thinness. After the football talk, he handed her the carved sphere. "I want you to have this," he said. "It took a lot of work, and it's my favorite piece. It's very valuable. I hope you'll think of me when you look at it."

"0h, I will, I will, Uncle Matt," said Laurie. She loved to receive gifts.

His death was more difficult than most: lung cancer from all those cigarettes. Laurie's parents, who tired of the trips to the hospital, were relieved. Laurie's father, administrator of the estate, sold the tools and some of the sculptures to Matt's woodworking friends. He sold the house. The estate sale did not attract wood lovers, however, so most of the carved wood pieces were left for the trash haulers.

The estate left enough money for college, and Laurie easily passed her Home Economics courses. After playing the field for the proper time, she found the man of her choice and married him. She had so much self-confidence, coming from a confident family, that courtship entailed no difficulties, and he was just graduating from Law School, an assured future. She settled into suburban homemaking, with all its small distresses, and, although they had no children, kept busy. The lacy sphere was safely stored in a small box in a closet, awaiting the moment when it would be needed.

She didn't really intend it, but somehow some New Year's Eve foolishness led to a brief affair with a neighbor. Her husband found out about it, and hired a private detective to take pictures. Laurie got nothing out of the divorce. Her parents, retired in Florida, offered no help, so she got an apartment and a job as a receptionist. As she was unpacking, she came across the carved sphere, and thought nostalgically about Uncle Matt.

"The only thing he gave me, and it's very valuable," she said to herself.

The next day, she took her engagement ring with its numerous small diamonds, her wedding ring, and the lacy sphere to an antique dealer. "What will you give me for these rings and the carving?" she asked.

The dealer studied the rings carefully. "Three hundred for the rings," he said, "but the ball isn't worth a thing."

Laurie's mouth dropped open. "What?"

"Not a thing."

Laurie returned to her apartment after going to two more antique dealers and a pawnshop. "Uncle Matt, you sonofabitch, you fooled me," she said to the ball. She squeezed it, tentatively at first, then harder. It resisted. Surprised, she squeezed as hard as she could, but it wouldn't even give. She had to hurl it to the floor and step on it with her foot before it crunched like the skull of a small animal.


Spring was definitely coming. Riding the train south towards Duluth, he saw the unbearably bright sun forcing the snow down a little lower every mile. Winter at the lumber camp hadn't been too bad, really. Not as bad as he had expected. The work was hard, but the food good. Some of his comrades had been unlucky: two were dead, one had a broken back, and one was missing a leg. But he didn't get a scratch, not even a close call; and he had been able to send money home to his parents, as promised. There's nothing to spend it on in the camps if you don't gamble.

Others stayed on to run the logs downriver, but home needed him. His parent's homestead farm was only half cleared, not yet capable of supporting the family. Pella thought ahead to a summer of cutting trees, burning brush and grubbing stumps. Terrible summer work, with humidity and mosquitoes. This summer, though, they will get the rest of the land cleared and the swamp drained. Then only one more lumbering winter, and the farm will be self-supporting. Farming is the real life. They farmed in Sweden, they will farm here, and that's what Pella will do when his father grows too old. Hard work is an investment in a rich future, and you can learn more useful things in the woods than in school. Some boys his age, from families who had already cleared their land, went to school during the winter. "Boy? Hell, I'm a man," he corrected himself.

The southbound train out of Duluth didn't leave for hours, so he decided to see the town. To be truthful, he was looking forward to that, listening carefully each night to the stories: a winter's worth of exciting adventures in Duluth. The stories made him save out some money, so he could see the sights, too. Duluth was overcast but warm. The snow was sticky. The cutters running in the streets had actually worn through to bare dirt in places. The lake smelled good. If it wasn't the lake, at least something smelled good. Pella sprang along, looking up, sideways, even backwards so he wouldn't lose his way back to the train station. He passed the first saloon on the street, but at the next one, he heard piano music even through the closed door. It opened into a dark, cigar-smoke room. Most of the men at the bar were in lumber clothes, although others were well-dressed. The music was fast, like a polka, but syncopated so you couldn't make out how to dance it. The tune moved into a strange dischord, then resolved itself again, only to effortlessly change back into the weird scale. The piano player looked as smooth as his music: dark hair smeared with macassar oil. Pella read the advertising signs. OLD FORESTER. OLD GRAND DAD. WED IN THE WOOD. He looked at the other drinks on the bar, and followed the crowd with a shot of whiskey and a beer. Whiskey tasted terrible, so beer wasn't bad by comparison. He flushed immediately. He loosened the buttons of his red-and-black checked flannel shirt. The piano player changed to a minor chord, and the rhythm got even weirder and louder. His barmates cheered and whistled. A spotlight lit up a small stage. The pianist stopped, turned to the audience, shouting, "...and now, what you've all been waiting for, the fabulous Tanya!"

He restarted the music, and Tanya danced out on stage in a harem costume. She slithered shoulders and hips in time to the music. The piano playing had been dirty all along. Pella knew this now; he just hadn't figured it out until Tanya demonstrated it for him. Last summer, he secretly took hold of Inga's hand at the church social, and she squeezed his hand back. That squeeze drove him through the long winter in the woods. But Tanya, dusky, slim and shapely, was nothing like Inga. He riveted on every move of her body. She moved like river water over submerged rocks, and her flow in time with the unfamiliar rhythm was so exciting, Pella almost forgot to breathe. The backbreaking wood labor of the past winter and the coming summer was remote, secondhand, as if he had only heard about it. When the bartender came by for reorders, Pella nodded without taking his eyes off Tanya. She left the stage all too soon, and the piano player stepped down for a break. He moved in next to Pella, ordered a whiskey, then unexpectedly turned to him. "What do you think of Tanya?" he asked.

Pella was a little confused. His tongue wouldn't work right. Finally, he answered, "I think she's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. What color is she?" He meant 'race', but couldn't think of the English word. The piano player understood him anyway. "Why she's Persian! Who else could dance like that? She knows every move." He looked at Pella meaningfully.

"Do you own this place?" Pella asked, embarrassed by the look.

"No, but I'm sort of in charge of the entertainment. Look here, I can see you've been in the woods, probably all winter. Right? Well, Tanya has a soft spot in her heart for loggers, particularly those who have kept themselves pure for a long time. You have done that, haven't you?" There was that meaningful look again.

Pella nodded while swallowing hard. He wasn't quite sure what the man was talking about, but it sounded too good to be true.

"Well, then, come this way," said the piano player. He led Pella through the noisy crowd to a door, opening into a darkened stairway down. At the bottom was a small room with a door at the other end. "Wait here," he said, pointing Pella to a chair. He left through the other door. Pella shivered, still not quite sure what was happening.

He came back through the door. He had not been gone long. "She says she'd love to see you and show you a good time! Just take your clothes off and go through that door, and she'll be there."

"What?" said Pella. He thought he must be dreaming.

"She can't show you a good time if you have those lumbering clothes on, can she? By the way, she likes to tease. Just catch her and get on top of her."

The piano player left. Pella, his hands shaking, took off his clothes. Before opening the door, he looked at himself in a mirror on the wall. He really didn't look too bad. Very strong shoulders, arms and back, triangulating down to slimmer but still muscular trunk, thighs and legs. One look in the mirror, and his excitement fused into an erection, organ distended with a winter's worth of semen. Cautiously, he opened the door. It might be a trick!

The room was larger and more brightly lit than he had expected, but Tanya was standing there, wearing only a shimmering transparent silken shawl in front of her. Her breasts and triangular hairpatch were clearly visible. Pella again thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, but he couldn't even swallow, much less speak. After an eternity, during which time his erection did not diminish, he was finally able to say "hello."

Tanya smiled and began to do the same suggestive dance she had done upstairs, only without music this time. She moved towards him. He tried to dance with her, but couldn't understand the rhythm, couldn't follow her. His desire for her got worse and worse. After a few clumsy steps, he grabbed for her shawl, but was surprised to snatch only air. She had moved away. She danced more, smiling and beckoning to him. He concentrated on her waving hips, and tried to grab them. Again, she danced right out of his grasp, and again turned and beckoned to him. He was suddenly angry. His back, shoulder and arm muscles tensed. More desperate now, he lunged at her. She wasn't there. The harder he tried to get her, the faster her dance became. Pella breathed harder. He was mad. But as soon as he thought of turning back to the door where his clothes were, she began again to beckon and smile at him with the same desiring look. He redoubled his efforts, and finally was able to guide her into a corner with his outstretched arms. Just as he reached for her, she pushed on a panel. The entire corner swung around, and when it came back, Tanya had disappeared. Pella pushed on the corner panel as hard as he could, but it didn't move. Suddenly, the air was filled with the awfullest pounding sound, the likes of which he had never heard before. Looking up, he noticed that, above the lights, the room was ringed with glass windows. Looking beyond the lights, he recognized some of the faces he had seen at the bar. Everyone was pounding on the windows, and he could see they were yelling and cheering. He ran out of the room back to where his clothes were. He had a hard time putting them on, so he thought hard about the train station. He ran up the stairs and out the door as fast as he could, trying not to hear the laughter, not looking to the side. Once out the door, he didn't slow down until he got to the station. He was sweating. After the sweating, even long after he was home, there remained the embarrassment: hard, glittering, cold as a diamond, and as indestructible. It outlived Pella; it outlived the one who told me this story; it will outlive me. I now present you with Pella's embarrassment. You can keep it. It looks good on you.


Dad never knew much about money. Mom did all the bookkeeping, and milk cows didn't bring in all that much, anyway. Certainly never enough to pay much income tax. He faithfully memorized Grandpa's order to never borrow money, and he never did. The woodpile was his bank account. He looked at it every day and gauged his wealth by it. Like any miser, he always felt poor: there was never enough. Some years the woodpile grew to giant size, but we lived on glacial-scarred land. The glaciers had left only recently, and Dad could imagine a winter so severe it would chew all the wood up by March. We needed wood in the summer, too, for cooking. He had to follow Grandpa's advice, for there was no bank that lent wood.

The 120 acre farm was 3 forties (3/4 mile) long, with the farm buildings and woodpile at one end, and the woods at the other. If there was snow, Christmas school vacation was the start of the wood season. The first morning of vacation, after we milked the cows and cleaned the barn, we went to the machine shed and dragged out the two halves of the gangsled. The runners, 6-inch wide timbers, carved into graceful curves in front, were lined with strapiron. The front sled had the horsepole and tugs, with a heavy cross-timber (called a bunk) where you sat and drove the horses. The back sled was attached to the front with crossed chains, but also had a bunk which, like the front one, had ironwood poles stuck into holes on each end. The poles held the logs in place when we hauled them home.

December was already very cold, so we wore long underwear and two pairs of pants, plus wool shirt, sweater, jacket, and leather mittens with wool liners. We used wool socks, felt boots and rubber overshoes. If the snow was deep, we wound Dad's dark brown wrap leggings (he had brought several pair home from World War I) from ankle to knee to prevent wet pantslegs.

We harnessed Beauty and Bird and hitched them to the gangsled. We took double-bitted axes and a long two-man Swedish steel saw, which could be bent into a loop like a Damascus sword. Dad drove the horses across the bitter fields, while Mike and I sat on the rear bunk, our backs to the wind. I left a Morse code message in the snow by dragging my feet: dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot (SOS: save us from woodcutting). The wind wasn't quite so bad when we reached the woods, and I swung around on the bunk to watch the snow whiz under the open area between the sled halves. The trees, all twig and trunk, didn't give much protection, but the west end of the farm was an esker that deflected the northwest gales. Dad tied the horses to a tree. The prickly ash ripped at our clothes as we slogged through the thickets. Finally, he found a tree that was just the right type and size: old enough to be good firewood. He axed a niche on the side where it was to fall, a job requiring more skill than a schoolkid could handle. Mike and I sawed on the other side of the tree. A two-man saw works like a breeze if both men pull and release at just the right time, and if you pull the saw straight out from the tree. My sense of sawing rhythm was terrible, though, and my back muscles started to spasm after the first few strokes. I pulled up on the saw as well as outward, which made the drag worse. Mike cursed at me. Dad wouldn't swear at me, but he never tired of telling me how to do it. That didn't help; my back just wasn't built for lumbering. Eons later, we had sawed the tree almost through, and Dad hammered a small wedge into the front side of the cut. When the tree began to crack, we stepped back, watching to make sure it fell in the right direction. A mistake here is serious. Cut through too far, and the tree will twist on its stump, after which it can fall in any direction. The snow plumed upwards as the tree whacked into the frozen ground. The horses did not flinch. We trimmed the branches with a double-bitted axe, and, with the help of a small amount of kerosene, lit the brush into a sooty yellow blaze, warming us and a blackened coffee pot as well.

It was easier to use the two-man saw to cut the fallen tree into logs. With a sledgehammer and wedges, we split them into small enough pieces so we could lift them onto the bunks of the gangsled. When the logs were piled above the bunkpoles, we threw a chain around the entire bunch of logs and tightened it with a crowbar twisted around the chain like the propeller on a rubber-band airplane, and tied the crowbar to the chain with a rope. I was not sorry to see us head for home. After school began again, Dad went to the woods every day, sawing down the trees with a one-man saw. Every weekend, we went along to help load logs on the sled. As the winter turned coldest, the logpile grew as the pile of cut, split wood shrank. By early spring, Dad was glum. He was feeling the sting of stovewood poverty.

One year, we collected an unusually large pile of logs, which made the pile of prepared firewood look even smaller. I went with Dad in the car to Ted Richard's farm. Ted owned a buzzsaw, and for as long as I could remember, we had hired him to saw our logs into stovewood lengths. As we drove into the farmyard, Ted's father, an old man with dark glasses, stepped out of the house. Heavy solid telegraph wire ran between the house and the outdoor toilet. On the wire was a sliding ring with a rope hanging from it. He took the rope and slowly followed the wire to the toilet. He turned towards the sound of our car and waved at it.

"Why is he blind?" I asked.

"He was sawing wood and a chip hit him in the eye," said Dad. "Then the other eye went bad. That's why Ted always uses goggles when he runs the saw."

Ted came out of the house before his father had reached the end of his wire track.

"I need my wood sawed," said Dad. "When do you think you could make it?"

"My tractor isn't working," said Ted, "and I decided to quit farming. I just rented a place in town, and I'm going to open a restaurant. I figure people always have to eat, but they don't always need their wood cut."

Dad's voice had an edge. "Who saws, then?"

"You might try a fella named Layman. He comes from down by the river bottom. But I don't think he comes through here until fall."

The old man came out of the toilet and groped for the leadrope. The silvery song of the rope's metal loop on the telegraph wire ran up and back the bluegray line like a message, repeated by the reflecting farm buildings. The sun was so bright I had to squint. As we turned and drove away, I asked Dad, "Can't he even see this sunlight?"

"Not a thing," said Dad.

Dad was grimmer that summer. Unsawed logs are not usable wealth. They must be split after sawing, and they need time to cure. We put up the hay and shocked the oats and filled the silo with green corn. Dad called Layman several times, but with no result.

Finally, everything was set for a Tuesday in late October. We drove to all the neighbors and relatives we had helped and who had in turn helped us thresh oats and fill silo. One neighbor looked at the ground when Dad told him Layman was the sawyer. "I know I owe you some help," he said, "but couldn't you find someone else?"

"What's wrong with him?" asked Dad.

"He's a maniac! Crazy as a shithouse mouse. I helped saw for him once. He has this old Model T engine to pull his saw, and he swears it can't be stopped. He's invented a funny sort of buck to hold the log. It's on a hinge, and he feeds the log into the saw just by pushing on it. He pushes it back and forth as fast as he can, and you're expected to keep feeding the log forward. He goes like that all day, and he yells at you if you don't get the next log up right away. He goes too fast. Someone will get hurt."

"I'll try to get some extra help," said Dad. I knew then that I'd be staying home from school on Tuesday.

The sun was setting on Monday night, and we were putting the milkcans into the watertank for cooling, when Layman pulled slowly into our driveway. I'd never seen anyone like him. The members of our family were built like the cows we milked, but he was thin as a sapling, oakbark color from head to foot. He had a brown cap and long brown coat, brown pants and brown boots, with socks which had once been white, but were now brown. His face and hands were brown, powdered with old sawdust. His hair had not been cut for a very long time, and he had not shaved for several days.

"I thought you weren't coming until tomorrow," said Dad.

"How else would we be able to start on time?" answered Layman.

Sure enough, he was driving a Model T truck. On the back was a circular saw attached by a belt to another Model T engine. The whole contraption was well used. He drove it over by the woodpile and, as darkness set in, ran around his rig, adjusting a nut here, greasing a bearing there, covering the open engines. Both of them were cooled by a 55 gallon oil drum full of water. The drum was open on top with a hose stuck in it. I felt the water; it was hot.

"Just wait until tomorrow," said Layman. "When my T model starts to pull that saw, she boils to beat hell. I'm going to need lots of water to keep her cool. In the winter I use snow."

After adding some more supper to her cooking, Mom went upstairs to fix a bed for him. Layman did not wash either his face or hands before he sat down to eat with us. I waited for Mom to tell him to wash his hands, but she said nothing. In the lamplight, I saw his teeth were brown and rotted like old treestumps. As he ate, spit ran down the corners of his mouth, cleaning two stripes of his face.

After supper, they talked. Layman said he played fiddle, so Dad took out his fiddle and gave it to him. Layman tucked it under his wirebrush chin and sawed out some old Swedish tunes: Johan på Snippen and Jänta Å Ja and Styrmans Valse. The fiddle screeched -- he pushed down way too hard on the bow. I had never heard it sound so hard before. He had taken some snuff, and the corners of his mouth, though wet, had returned to their natural color. Dad took out his Hohner mouth organ and began to play along with Layman. They ran through several more tunes. "You know," said Layman, "I can play the mouth organ too."

"I have to go to bed now," Dad said, slapping the harmonica on his knee.

Even before we finished milking, Layman was out monkeying with his two Model T engines. I snuck out of the barn early and went over to watch him. The grass looked even greener than usual, because it was covered with a light coat of hoarfrost glittering in the sun. I turned and looked at my green footprints between the barn and where I stood, a dead giveaway. Layman had trampled all the frost away from around his rig. He was running. He pumped his greasegun so fast it wouldn't pump grease. His hands were shaking as he transferred the spark coil from the truck engine to the saw engine, and tried to attach the wires. He was swearing to himself.

"I'm almost ready," he said. "Where is everybody?"

"Still milking, I think," I said. I thought about a windup toy walking man I once had. I had broken it somehow so it ran down in a couple of seconds. It couldn't walk anymore, but lay on the ground in a frenzied fit until its spring was unwound.

He took a blowtorch out of his toolkit and began to pump it up. "What's that for?" I asked.

"I've got to heat up the engine so I can crank it," he said.

I looked into his toolkit, and saw a wristwatch there, an exquisite wristwatch with a tooled leather strap. It had a sweep second hand, and two other small hands on the face which were there for no reason I could imagine. There were pushbuttons on the side. I had never seen anything like it, even in the Sears catalog. "What is this for?" I asked. I was surprised that a raggedy brown dirty madman would have a fine piece of jewelry.

He had come over to the toolbox for a match. "Oh that," he said, and his voice slowed down. "Put it back," he said. "That belonged to Arnie. He's my son. He got it in the army."

Layman took a long breath. "It was an accident. He was home on furlough helping me with a load of wood. We had to hurry. I chained the load together and tightened it. He was over on the other side, and just as I let go of it, the crowbar came loose. The logs fell on him. Crushed him. I dragged the logs off him. It was too late. He was gone. His watch still worked, so I kept it to remember him by."

He turned away as I put the watch back. "Shit," he said. "He and I could have cut a lot of wood together." He lit the blowtorch and began to pump it some more. The flame stayed in the cup, but a thin stream of unlit gasoline squirted out a long ways, maybe 15 feet. "Shit," he said again, and pumped harder. "Where is everybody? We've got some fancy sawing to do today."


So there they are, unvarnished. We are still in the axe-age. The old stories of my people promise that yet to come will be a sword-age, a wind-age and a wolf-age. May Woden have mercy on us. The two humans hidden in the ashtree are encased in waxy cocoons. They will have to wait a long time for their chance, after three winters without a summer, before corn grows in fields unsown. What a bother, when they finally break their shells to look on newly risen earth, only to find they're no different from us.