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These are difficult times for so many people. As residents of the state of New York, we are at the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak. Until almost three weeks ago I was still teaching in our school’s shop in Manhattan, the most formidable of the five boroughs that forms the most energized city in the world. And now New York is a ghost town inhabited by millions of people who are cooped in their apartments. Our friends who live in the city tell us that the quiet streets are interrupted with the sounds of ambulances on their way to and from hospitals that are bucking under the agonizing plight of the sick and suffering.

In the last two and a half weeks we have been following the Governor’s request to stay home. We only leave for food shopping and the essentials that we can’t get on line, and to take evening walks around the block on our village’s abandoned roads. We are grateful for having a house, a yard, a vegetable garden, and a chicken coop. Our five year-old son, Asher, has not been in school the past three weeks so we came up with a makeshift homeschool program for him. My partner is in charge of academics and I am the arts and crafts czar. Grandma from Florida, and via Facetime, is doing a great job at teaching him how to read and write. Our son loves to help in the kitchen, making pancakes, fritters, smoothies and more, though he is way too fast when mixing things and manges to sprinkle fine flour dust all over the place. When the sun is out we try to spend as much time outside as possible. We also enjoy making bonfires in the evenings, which gives me an excuse to improve my skills in splitting billets and sharpening axes and mauls. 

The handle of my old maul split last week. This week I hanged a new one on this old timer.

Some of Asher’s guided outdoor activity last week was to learn, for the first time, how to use an axe and a hookaroon. Knowing how energized he is, I tried to craft and corral this activity as safe and structured as I could. On the one hand I did not want to over scare him with the dangers associated with these formidable tools, by planting seeds of anxiety in his young mind. On the other hand I did not want him to feel oblivious to the risks generated by a swinging blade.  Obviously, as a caring parent, I did not want him to injure himself and have rush him to a hospital – especially during this time. 

I began our tutorial with some explanations of the tools and what they are meant for, which material they can strike (only wood of course) the risks involved, and how to avoid them. Next I found a safe place to begin the hands-on tutorial. We swung the axe together (father and son’s hands on the hatchet handle) over a chopping billet to sever some kindling. We repeated this a few times until I felt that he acquired enough muscle memory to try it solo.

As he got better his confidence grew too. That was the perfect opportunity for me to talk to him about the liabilities of too much confidence and how we need to be always on the guard of not falling into that hubris trap. As I supervised his progress (and praised his accomplishments) I noticed that he tends to wonder his attention from the blade and gaze sideways to talk to me. I stopped him and reiterated the importance of focusing his attention on the work, or as I said: “Asher, keep your eyes on the axe, this is not the time for talking”. Next we found a fallen tree and I showed Asher the basics of splitting a log in two using diagonal chopping strokes.

Then came the time for the hookaroon or pickaroon. I reiterated the oral “user’s manual” and reminded him that a swung tool that did not terminate on the workpieces might end up on his leg, exclamating this maxim with: “pay attention, Asher”.

 

We ended our lumberjacking activity with some sawing practice, which he has done in the past.  We then stacked our crop of chopped and sawn timber on top of our firewood stock and returned home for dinner. 

As I continue homeschooling Asher, preparing to remotely teach my students who live in New York City, and try to make the best of this unfortunate predicament that descended upon us, I promise to keep you posted as often as I can, sharing my thoughts and projects. 

Next time I will talk about my first COVID-19 project, building a wooden model of the USNS Mercy and her sister ship Comfort, who arrived a few days ago to the New York City harbor to help in the heroic medical battle that is waged in our anguished metropolis. 

 

All my best wishes to you all. 


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