Today I cut up an old, fallen oak tree for firewood. This tree had been dead for many years and was somewhat decomposed, but surprisingly to me, much of the wood was still quite sound. The wood fibers in oak have strong cell walls, making the wood resilient to decay. Besides this fact, much of this tree consisted of large branches with heavy knots, which remain firm even longer.
My Dad and I worked in those same woods together almost thirty years ago, and that same oak tree had already fallen at that time. However, it was in quite an inaccessible place, and it was such a crooked and bent up tree, that we never did bother to go down where it had fallen to get it.
In the past years, however, when I have been home in Wisconsin, I have been cleaning up that woods and making trails to get to places that we could not before easily go. This year, in my gathering of firewood for the winter to come, I found myself looking once again at that old tree.
As I stood there looking at the tree, it brought back some memories from when I worked in those woods with my Dad. Many of you know that my Dad passed away a little less than a year ago. I was in New Zealand and the time and unable to come home for the funeral. Because of this, if you would like to think of the poem below as a form of delayed mourning for my Dad, I think that your thoughts might be quite appropriate.
THE FUNERAL PYRE
Old, dried and knotty, nearly forgotten oak.
Old, never forgotten, but now departed folk.
I stopped in the woods to look at the tree,
Lying on the ground in front of me.
I paused to remember some days gone by,
When we logged there together, my Dad and I.
That same old oak was lying there then,
Broken from its stump by a strong west wind.
We left it lie; it had no wood we could sell.
But now thirty years later, it had a story to tell.
It spoke of the old days. It told me about my Dad.
It said he did the very best with all that he had.
His ways may not have been my ways,
Each generation must live in its own days.
But with what he was given, my Dad did his best.
He accomplished his work before he lay down to rest.
And Dad still speaks to me, maybe not with words I can hear,
But mostly in memories, some really quite clear.
My old Dad has also fallen – now almost a year ago,
And I still am learning some things a son aught to know.
I bent to inspect the knots of the wood.
Though dead thirty years, some were really quite good.
For a fireplace fire, the best wood often is old.
It still contains power to drive out the cold.
I sawed up some of the sticks, some of the knots,
Into lengths that would fit in my fireplace box.
Some cold night this winter, when the wind howls bad,
I will burn that old oak, and remember my Dad.