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Ligneous art

`IT IS, indeed,'' I agreed pleasantly when the man looking for shore property paused to inquire if I would sell and admired my woodpile. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, and until it turns to ashes a woodpile is mighty pretty, so I added, ``It's even more beautiful once it's stacked in the shed.'' This made me recall how my father used to drive his tin lizzie about the State of Maine, and while we others pointed out this and took notice of that, Dad would specialize in woodpiles. ``Beautiful woodpile!'' he'd say, pointing, and Mother would shout, ``Frank! Keep your hands on the wheel!'' In those joyous times, washboardy dirt roads and the peculiarity of the Model T ``wishbone'' made it advisable never to point, and the driver who relaxed to that extent could go dancing off the road in a mechanical exultation called a shimmy. The Model T shimmied.

Dad's admiration of woodpiles was practical. He knew the work required from stump to shed, and the beauty was in his beholder's eyes -- he projected himself into the chill winter and the happy consequence of feet up on a cozy hearth and the front of the stove red hot. He saw not the grace and charm of Hebe in his woodpiles -- it was sturdy Hercules striding off in purpose to exert his muscles in useful pursuit. Now that I think of it, that was the way he gazed at most everything on our family rides.

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Once we were tooling along at a good 15 m.p.h. and three shoats came charging out of a dooryard to cross the road ahead of us. There was nothing unusual about that -- motorists were expected to avoid domestic animals. When the shoats appeared, Mother yelled, ``Frank! Bridle down!'' And Dad pushed on all three foot pedals at once -- the surest way to stop a tin lizzie. This spared the animals, and we children in the back seat took the storybook approach and called, ``The three little pigs!'' But Dad, with his beholder's eyes, said, ``Two sows and a barrow.'' As with his woodpiles, he projected sensibly, seeing beauty and truth together. Another time Mother shouted, ``Bridle down!'' and Dad missed a cow by a good two inches. Mother shuddered at the near miss and we children were amused at the unconcerned way the cow continued her meander. But Dad said, ``Mostly Jersey, but some Guernsey -- bet she's wicked hard to milk!''

I have a longtime friend upstate who is a lumberman, and every so often he sends me down a nine-cord truckload of upland maple and beech. Firewood isn't provided these days in the manner of my youth -- hand-sawn, hand-split, and piled under cover with a wheelbarrow. It's entirely possible my lumberman friend, with his tree snippers, skidders, delimbers, slashers, and hydraulic loaders, wouldn't know what my mother meant when she yelled, ``Bridle down!'' In sledding days, when logs were moved on snow, a teamster would wrap a chain around a runner to serve as a brake on a downhill skid, to keep the load from running ahead onto the horses, and such a chain was called a bridle.

I was delighted some years back to learn the French-speaking Canadians who came down to work in the Maine woods had taken this word home with them and, like my mother, used it for brake -- a frein. The Canadian dictionary gives: Bradelle, s. f. Grosse chaine de fer attach'ee sous le patin d'un traineau pour en diminuer la vitesse. I'm equally delighted that in Beauce, Quebec, patin d'un traineau becomes ronneur d'une sleigh. Anyway, what my mother meant was, ``Frank! Stop! Stop!''

When this seeker of shore property paused, my woodpile was about half eight-foot logs and half 16-inch stove length, and my chainsaw was being exercised. I have my woodshed full for this coming winter and the next, so I am leisurely laboring into the future. Money in the bank, sort of. I had just run out of gasoline and was removing my safety goggles and my hard hat.

``And where are you from?'' I asked the man.

``Mass,'' he said. People from Mass never say Massachusetts, so I knew he was an honest man and his word could be relied on. ``The Cape,'' he added. He said, ``That's a beautiful pile of wood!''

``Mostly rock maple,'' I said. ``Finest kind.''

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``Beautiful,'' he said.

I thanked him, and he drove along.

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