My Grandfather chopped more wood than anyone I know. Of course he lived in Minnesota and had to survive 8 months of winter with a wood burning stove. He actually moved into the house in November of 1921 which means he had to start chopping down trees in the dead of winter. If you haven’t been to Minnesota in the winter you have no idea how difficult that would be and this was before chain saws. To say my Grandfather was tough would be just plain wrong. He was as tough as they come in the land of Paul Bunyan. Minnesota winters were the ultimate test of manhood in those days and probably still are. It wasn’t like he just stayed inside for 8 months either because there was plenty of work to do before summer.
In the days before refrigeration was invented ice was used to keep food cold. In Minnesota that meant cutting blocks of ice out of the lake in the winter and storing them in an icehouse to be used in summer. I saw some of the tools they used like enormous tongs, giant saws and heavy duty sleds. We still had the icehouse when I was a kid. Basically it was just a shell for keeping the ice confined and self cooling. The ice was stacked up 10-15 feet high and covered with sawdust and then the door was sealed up until summer when they would start taking it out one block at a time. At the peak of his resort business he had about 10 cabins with little ice boxes mounted on the side next to the kitchen where the food was kept next to a small chunk of fresh ice. Grandpa had to replace that ice every day that someone was in the cabin. It’s funny how much we take for granted these days and he was doing this just 50 years ago.
The other winter necessity was ice fishing. I have never done this but all my cousins in Minnesota swear by it as the greatest time to go fishing. They all like to drink and get away from their wives too but I’m sure that has nothing to do with it. Ice fishing today just barely resembles ice fishing in the 20’s and 30’s. They didn’t have heaters or TV’s or LaZBoys. It was just one man, some string, bait and bone chilling cold. Luckily, the fish do bite quite often in the winter and I’m sure my Grandpa never went home empty handed. My Grandma would have let him have it if she ever thought he was goofing off. It’s amazing how the overwhelming need to survive sharpens our focus and motivates us so much. That’s something else we all need to remember these days.
My own experience in Minnesota has mostly been confined to the summer months. I do my best, in the few days I am there, to continue the family legacy of working hard. I prefer to cut brush back in the woods by myself. We have a nature trail that winds around on the back 40 acres, which is all woods. We have a brush cutter that runs some times and chain saws and weedeaters and hatchets and saws but it’s still back breaking work. There’s something really spiritual about working out in the woods by yourself. I can almost feel my Grandpa’s presence working beside me. Between the smell of the two cycle engine, the bug repellant and the rotting fallen trees it just reeks of history. He spent his whole adult life cutting wood and taking care of his part of Minnesota. The warmth I get from doing the same thing is just history repeating itself. I hope my own children will always have this place to do the same.
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