A Sloppy Chop
SGT. 1ST CLASS DARIN VANMETER
244th Aviation Brigade
U.S. Army Reserve
Autumn is one of my four favorite seasons of the year. The oppressive heat and humidity of summer are a fading memory. The foliage is a brilliant fireworks show in slow motion, taking weeks to unfold. My old friends Flannel Shirt and Ugly Sweater forgive my neglect, content to enjoy a hot cocoa with me by the bonfire. We then peacefully beat the lawn mower to pieces with a baseball bat to a soothing 90’s gangsta rap soundtrack reminiscent of the classic “Office Space” scene.
My furnace is easy to please. All she requires is a quick preseason check up by our friendly heating and air conditioning service guy. If I feel like being warmer, I just say, “Alexa, turn on the heat,” and my robot overlords make it a toasty 70 degrees.
Sometimes, however, I’m not feeling so chatty. If I’m in an analog mood, the wood stove is there for me in all of her unplugged glory. No app. No late-night filter change reminder texts. No hassle. All I have to do is chop up a bunch of the right trees a year in advance, incessantly add logs all day and night, and clean out the ashes when it’s cooled down enough to do so.
Too easy, right? Because we, dear readers, are wise and seasoned homeowners, it only seems easy. Last year, when I was a country life noob, I did everything comically wrong. On numerous occasions, I had near misses which almost led me to pull up my insurance app.
First, both on and off duty, we must conduct our preventive maintenance checks and services and know the proper operations under usual conditions stuff. The previous homeowners were the best at leaving me a thousand ticking time bombs. The flue was not up to anything resembling code, I used the poor-quality wood they left, I didn’t know the importance of keeping the stove going at a proper temperature range to prevent the buildup of creosote, and didn’t clean the flue of the aforementioned creosote. A thankfully small chimney fire was just the reminder I needed to figure out all the stuff I didn’t know (Google and YouTube, as always). I repaired the chimney, swept it out with a neat little tool (thanks, Amazon), learned how to keep a fire going nicely, and got motivated to chop up a wonderful hardwood tree that died of natural causes some time ago. Time to make some firewood!
As a newly self-certified expert, I was determined to do things right. I put on my best flip-flops so I wouldn’t step in any unsanitary dog poop, placed a beefy log on the less steep section of the sloped yard, raised my new splitting axe to the heavens and — while letting out a thunderous lumberjack howl — brought it down upon its target with all my might. I missed. Well, mostly missed. I caught the edge of the log, which deflected the axe onto my foot.
Thank you for wincing, but it was worse than that. The blade somehow more or less went between my toes and made a 2-inch slice in my favorite flip-flop — the left one. Initially, the stream of profanities was because my big toe was nicked; but when I wiped away the blood, I realized that the gaping slice in my flip-flop was forever.
I would like to think that the appropriate corrective actions would be obvious, but as this is a safety article, I’ll spell it out.
- I posted my bloody foot to Instagram so my friends could make fun of me.
- I moved my log-splitting area to level ground.
- I priced a hydraulic splitter, scoffed at the price and then watched a video on proper axe technique.
- I used a large, steady log to elevate my work surface.
- I dug out some sturdy leather outdoor work boots, eye protection and gloves.
- Using a good stance and a practiced swing, I chopped a couple of cords that winter with no further footwear injury.
I know that most of you are not planning on moving out of your swanky city apartment so that you can chop wood to heat your quaint little country cottage, but the lesson learned here is more fundamental than that. We find ourselves in unfamiliar situations all the time. Take a moment to do a little informal risk assessment. Learn how to do things correctly. Keep safety in mind throughout all of your brilliant adventures and your expensive leather flip flops will thank you.