On Friday, we had six cords of wood delivered to the little house in the big woods. We have a wood furnace in our basement—or down cellar, as we Mainers say—and this is our primary source of heat in the winter. (We also have electric and propane, so we are covered.)
We like to refer to the wood as “nature’s gym,” as Clif and I must stack the six cords before the snow comes. All right. In fact it is Clif who mostly stacks it. But I will help, too.
And elderly man drove the truck with the wood. Just how elderly he was I didn’t know until I started talking to him about hauling wood.
“I’ve been working in the woods since I was eleven,” he said. “Back then we used horses to get the wood out.”
“Horses?” I asked.
The man nodded. “I’m eighty years old. That’s how we did it back then.”
“You’re eighty? No way, ” I replied, and I was being completely truthful. The man looked to be in his late sixties or early seventies. It seems that nature’s gym has worked for him.
The man smiled. “I am eighty.”
“When are you planning on retiring?” I asked. Clf will be retiring the end of September, and it was on my mind.
He answered, “To me retiring means sitting around waiting to die. I’m not going to retire.”
“Well,” I said, “if I’m lucky enough to live to eighty, I hope I look as good as you do.”
“I have had a few things tinkered with—bypass, stent, and knees.”
Still, here he was, delivering our wood and not planning on retiring. Our talk then turned to where to put six cords in the relatively narrow space between our driveway and the woods. We certainly didn’t want it on the other side of the driveway, on the flower beds.
“If some of the wood goes in the driveway, then that’s all right,” I said.
“I’ll see what I can do,” the man replied.
And he did very well indeed. He delivered three loads—two cords each—and most of it was piled off the driveway. On the last delivery, I looked out the window and saw him scrambling over the wood he had previously delivered. He was trying to figure out how to dump the last load without getting too much in the driveway.
I hurried outside. “It’s all right. It’s all right. Don’t worry about the driveway.”
He smiled sheepishly. “Not quite as agile as I used to be.”
Just as he finished with the wood—some had to go in the driveway, but we still have room for the car—I took the first batch of gingersnaps out of the oven. I had time to put a couple on a paper plate and bring them out to him before he left. After all that work, it seemed to me that an eighty-year-old man deserved a couple of cookies.
“You’re leading me astray,” he said, but without a moment’s hesitation, he took the cookies.
After the man left, I thought about what he had said about retiring. For someone whose life has revolved around physical activity—he’s worked in the woods for a very long time—I can see how retirement would be a torment rather than a blessing. I hope when it is his time to go, that he does so quickly, maybe by the woodpile as he’s gathering wood. (My friend Tom Sturtevant died that way.)
It would be a fitting end for an active man.