The annual wood-chopping party took most of Saturday to happen, with most of the male population of Moratinos chopping, lopping, picking up, binding, sweeping, raking, shouting, and backhoe-wrangling. After everyone got cleaned up we reconvened in the Ayuntamiento Bar/classroom/meeting room for La Merienda, "refreshements:" Veal ribeyes, barbecued over the grapevine fire outside, superb Cerrato cheese, and quince jam, and the grapey new wine to try, as well as a lineup of hair-raising moonshine. It was manly food, slabs of hot meat eaten out of hand, cheese carved off the round with a shared knife, wine poured from a re-used plastic liter bottle into beer-logo bar glasses.
I write "we," even though the Plaza Tree-Trimming this year was overwhelmingly male. Right up to the end I was the only woman there. While the men rode backhoe buckets and rickety ladders into the treetops and weilded blades and roaring chainsaws on high, I stuck to the girly-girl tasks of chopping out dead wood with a sickle, pruning the rose-trees, and raking out a foot of fallen leaves in the little flower garden in the middle of the plaza. (The actual growing of flowers is up to more experienced ladies like Milagros and Flor, Leandra and Angeles. Me? I wait til winter. I deal with the dead. We all have our place in the Circle of Life that is our municipal flowerbed.)
The outcome of all this is a shockingly clean Plaza Mayor, where the tortured plane trees look like chickens planted head-down in buckled concrete. In summer they will make a leafy canopy over the plaza, but for now? Well. It is something very stark and Castilian. The other outcome is tons of wood trimmings, split up among the locals for use in their wood-burning furnaces and fireplaces.
This year the lads with the chainsaws also trimmed the decorative trees in our woodlot, a little triangle of unusable land right at the western entrance to Moratinos. The trees belong to the town, but the land belongs to us -- and so the wood on it is ours. (Or so I assume. It could be nobody else wants to bother with scrappy wood way over in el Barrio Arriba, our end of town.) The men helped us drag the biggest, thickest branches up into our back patio, but several trees´ worth of wood still lie on the ground down there. And this is how Patrick and I are occupying our days this week. We are lumber-jacking all that wood into fuel for next winter.
It is hard physical labor. The sun is supposed to shine all this week, however, and Paddy seemed keen to tackle the job.
Paddy wakes up early and walks the dogs a good four miles each morning, no matter the weather. He does his share of cleaning and cooking around the house, he eats healthfully and he gets plenty of sleep. He is not in bad condition, considering all the abuse heaped on his body over his almost-71 years. But this morning, dragging a tree trunk up to our back gate, he looked like a victim of Elder Abuse. He muttered something about an article this weekend in El Pais, the 10 Signs of Heart Attack. He has all of them, he said.
"Stop this then, you daft bastard," I said. "We´ll leave the wood. I bet Fran will be glad to take it. He loves collecting firewood."
"No way am I paying someone to bring us firewood in a truck, while we have all that perfectly good stuff just lying out there for free," Paddy panted. His eyes rolled up into his head.
"So then. You hatchet the twigs and limbs off the trunks and chop it up. There´s a brand-new blade on the chainsaw. I´ll do the hauling," I told him. I hiked down to the woodlot. The two little piles of branches the men left there Saturday had multiplied into the crudely-hacked remains of at least six trees. But I was valiant.
For many hours I lifted and hauled, lurched and swore. I left a trail of twigs behind me as I dragged branches up the steep incline onto the N120, made the sharp right onto the shoulder, and shlepped along the guardrail 100 meters or so to our back gate. Murphy Cat watched, scornful, from the horsetail trees. Fran, the neighbor who collects firewood, came by to offer advice and comfort. Paddy chopped and stacked.
It went on for hours. We still are not finished.
All day we ate leftovers cadged from the fridge, and a loaf of bread made overnight in the bread machine, spread with fabulously fresh peanut butter Philip hauled over in his baggage. We have some Cerrato cheese of our own, and some Cecina de Leon (the world´s finest dried beef). We have a bottle of past-its-due-date Vega Sauco Toro wine, watered-down. The fire dances bright in the stove, and Rostropovich on the stereo, making his cello cry over something Brahms.
The dogs and cat are curled into Cs and Os in their beds, and soon we will sign off on our own consciousnesses in our own comfy places. Wood and good chilly air, hard labor for future comfort, and an early sunset.
The novels are not finished, but the woodpile is growing.
We are not youthful, but we are fine.