There is something very masculine about chopping wood. I recently purchased a home with two wood burning stoves. This winter will be our first winter heating with wood. After purchasing twelve cord of wood my children went to work. Every day for a week or so they worked together to stack the wood (properly) in the wood shed. Then came the fun part. Though we received the wood split, we still need to chop many pieces smaller. And here is where my boys come in.
While the wood was being stacked, we had many complaints about stacking the wood. We witnessed many fights as to how it should be stacked. We bandaged feet, knees, hands, elbows and wiped away tears as logs missed their mark and marred one or more of the children. However, give a boy an ax and all the whining stops. The fights stop. And the boy works without complaint.
What is at work here? I think there are few elements at play:
First, as a Dad, I didn't need to spend much time teaching my children how to pick up a piece of wood from a pile and move it to the wood shed. But with chopping wood, my son has my full attention. He receives more Dad time.
Second, there is an element of competition involved. The boy competes against the wood (or his brother and the wood). Who will win? Will the boy succeed in splitting the wood and becoming its master?
Thirdly, the boy is developing strength in the process. His shoulders strengthen and arm muscles tighten. When a boy does work that exhausts his muscles it is much more fulfilling than work that does not (ie: doing dishes).
Fourthly, the boy is in nature working with his hands and mastering the elements. This speaks to something deep in a boy's masculinity and connects him with the work he is doing.
Fifthly, when a boy works with an ax, he must focus. There is no space for idle thoughts. His mind clears as he coordinates his movements with his eyesight. He develops his attention span.
Sixth, when he is chopping wood, he isn't fighting with his siblings!
The conclusion is obvious. Boys need physical labour. They need to use and develop their bodies in learning, working, and play.
A further conclusion is not obvious, to wit, boys need a trade. Rousseau, in his epic work on education, Emile, insists on this as well. His student, a young male, will learn carpentry. In the trades a young man connects with himself as he masters matter and this is essential to his development as a man soon to be a father. As he learns to be the master of matter, he can use the same discipline to master himself.
It all begins with chopping wood.