Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Axe Amos Found

Note: The following story was written by Carlen Smith. I found it well written and thought provoking, so I'm sharing it here, with his permission.

The following is a work of fiction, but that doesn't mean it's not true.

Some time ago, a young man named Amos was walking across a clearing in the woods behind his father's farm when a glint of sunlight on the ground ahead caught his eye, something sparkling out of the tall grass. Interested, Amos drew near and found an axe, its shining head gleaming in the light of the sun overhead and its handle all but lost in the wild spring growth of the clearing. Parting the green grass curtain, Amos grabbed the handle and picked up the axe. It was heavy. The handle felt rough but sturdy in his hands. Though the axe certainly wasn't new—both handle and head showed clear signs of having been put to good use in the past—the head was free of rust and the edge looked sharp as a sword. It seemed a fine tool, and Amos resolved to take it home and put it to use, happy to hand it over to its rightful owner should anybody come along looking for it.

Over the next few weeks, Amos became quite impressed with the axe. There was already another axe at the farm, a nice new one with a sleek look to it, but Amos found the axe from the woods to be clearly the superior implement. Though heavy, it was perfectly balanced. Though the handle was rough, it offered an unyielding grip, not slipping in his hands even with the strongest swings. In spite of the apparent age of the haft, it showed no signs of breaking. The head, though marred on the sides with scratches from past use, possessed such a keen edge and ideal angles that it made pleasant work of every task, dividing asunder hard knots in dry oak firewood with the same ease with which it bit into the trunks of soft cedars to be felled. The metal was of such a quality that it required little time at the grindstone to maintain its edge. Surely an experienced master of the craft had made this fine axe.

Amos began to look forward to any task which would allow him to put the axe to use. What a skilled violinist feels toward the prized violin at his shoulder, Amos began to feel toward the axe. The tune of his chopping grew ever more beautiful in his ears as he improved his art, whether the simple rhythms of splitting firewood or the crashing chorus of clearing timber for expansions to the farm. When his father needed a new shed built, Amos jumped at the chance to take on a project that would allow him not only to fell trees, but to then notch and link them to sculpt a log construction that would fulfill its expected function while pleasing the eye. The result was a sound structure that left Amos's father quite pleased with his son's work and grateful to have such talent and enthusiasm supporting the farm.

Years passed, and the time came for Amos to leave his father's farm and begin a family of his own. It was only natural that in building a home for his future, Amos should put the old axe to work. Using little more than his axe and the inspiration that seemed to flow whenever he held that proven instrument, Amos brought high trees low and built them up again anew in arrangements of such order and beauty that to call them buildings ignores the magnificence of the fruits of his labors. It's not that the house or the surrounding structures on this new farm were incredibly large or particularly elaborate. It was more a combined effect of exactness of angle, clarity of cut, and overall purity of form that made Amos's farm such a sight to behold. Though made from simple and even common components, Amos's works gave a sense of majesty to his family as they lived out their life in this kingdom of a family farm.

Amos's farm came to be something of a local attraction. It wasn't uncommon for residents of the nearby town to stop by to admire the handsome log cabin where Amos's family lived and to see the logwork barn, shed, and corrals on the property. Even the outhouse made of logs brought compliments, seeming an impressive throne indeed to visitors. Amos would always let his guests hold his axe, feeling for themselves the weight of the axe head and the roughness of the handle. They were always fascinated to experience the actual instrument used in the creation of the farm's edifices.

Eventually, Amos grew old and died, and one of his sons inherited both axe and farm. The axe seemed no worse for wear, even after the passage of decades, but Amos's son decided the axe would probably be improved by replacing the old, rough handle with a smoother and newer one. The balance of head and handle was a bit hampered by this change and the new handle didn't offer the sure grip of the old one, but to Amos's son, who wasn't the axe virtuoso his father had been, this minor change seemed a major improvement to the tool. He left the old handle in a storage shed and moved forward with this better evolution of the axe Amos found. If visitors happened to stop by the farm while he was out chopping firewood, he would proudly show them the axe and explain that it was the very axe his father had used in clearing the land and crafting the impressive buildings of the farm. The new handle on the axe did eventually break as Amos's son was splitting firewood one day, but he quickly replaced the handle with another smooth new one, and all was well.

After several years, Amos's son decided to move away from the farm, and he in turn left the axe and farm to one of his own sons, just as his father had passed them on to him. Amos's grandson was happy to take on this proud heritage and honored that such a noble birthright had come to him. He was always eager to show visitors around the place—improved now by the addition of electric lighting and modern plumbing, of course. Log cabins were becoming ever more a thing of the past as years rolled on, so the notoriety of Amos's farm steadily grew. Fewer and fewer log cabins remained in the area, and Amos's farm came to be known as the very pinnacle of a now dead art. When visitors came, Amos's grandson would be sure to show them Amos's axe, careful to preserve the tradition. The axe didn't get any actual use anymore, but Amos's grandson always kept it readily available for visitors to see.

When Amos's grandson grew old, he willed the farm and all its contents, axe included, to his own son, the fourth generation to possess this heirloom land. Amos's great grandson had his own modern home in the nearby town and decided that this big old farm was no place for an accountant and his wife to live, especially with no kids of their own to run around the farm, but we was glad to take over the role of steward of the property. Historically minded visitors to the state continued to make pilgrimages to this log shrine, and Amos's great grandson obliged them with brief weekend tours, pleased that the world continued to recognize the significance of this legacy in logs—and equally pleased that he was able to make some money from tour admissions. Sure, in the past his forefathers had shown people around the place with no fees involved, but with the number of tourists coming around these days, an admission price was certainly justifiable, if not absolutely necessary. He had a parking lot put in on the property, replacing an old corral, and he brought in a couple of elaborately detailed rugs to cover the bare dirt floors of the cabin. These additions made for a more convenient and visually appealing tour of the farm.

Amos's great grandson always saved the axe for the last bit of the tour, relishing the moment when he could show visitors the very axe that had built all this marvelous work. The axe was now kept in a glass display case in the main room of the old log cabin, and for extra safety, he had replaced the sharp-edged head of the axe with a dull old axe head he found in a shed on the property; in case anybody should remove the glass case and actually touch the axe, it simply wouldn't do to have them accidentally cutting themselves on the edge of the axe and then landing him in the middle of a lawsuit. Amos's great grandson reasoned that the handle, at least, was the original (not knowing any better himself), so it was no great deception to replace the axe head on this antiquated tool. Tourists certainly didn't know any better, and they always came away with a sense of profound awe after seeing this venerable relic. How great to see not only the great farm itself, but also the very instrument of its creation, original head and handle still intact after all these years! Tourists ate it up, and Amos's great grandson made a fair amount of money from these weekend tours. He often thought hopefully of even selling the property altogether someday—maybe the state would buy the property and turn it into a state monument or something.

Amos's great grandson decided what these tours were missing was a gift shop. He resolved to clear out all the old junk in the logwork storage shed near the parking lot and convert the space into a little shop. He'd sell postcards with pictures of the cabin or of Amos's axe. There would be little toy log building sets—kids would love those! There would be T-shirts and keychains, framed pictures of the property—maybe he could even pay somebody to put together a nice film about the history of Amos's farm and sell that as well, a feel-good family feature, full of nostalgia and old-fashioned charm. The first thing, though, was to get rid of all the useless old clutter in the shed. He cleared out the shed and left its worthless contents in a pile near the parking lot. He'd come back with a truck and haul the stuff off to the dump when he got the chance.

One day, a young man named Jeremiah was there for the tour at Amos's farm. He was new to the nearby town, and this was already his third time taking the tour. He was just so fascinated by this marvelous old farm and the grand and simple life it represented! The log structures were so sturdy and elegant! The genuine effort and artistry that went into the creation of it all, and then the sense of satisfaction that Amos's family must have felt to live in this beautiful homestead Amos had made himself! Jeremiah felt a real longing for that old way of life, so different from the workings of modern society.

As Jeremiah made his way back to the parking lot after the tour, he noticed an old axe haft sticking out of a pile of farm tools and assorted odds and ends from a bygone era. He walked closer and saw also a battered old axe head lying on a torn burlap bag and reflecting sunlight up at him. He drew the rough handle from the antiquated rubble and then picked up the heavy axe head, warm to his touch from the sun shining overhead. They looked like a good fit for each other, and though they clearly weren't new, they seemed to be in good shape. As he admired this abandoned axe, Amos's great grandson came walking over to the nearby storage shed, carrying a cash register. Jeremiah called out to him and asked if this pile of old things was meant to be thrown away. When Amos's great grandson replied that this was indeed the case, Jeremiah asked if he might take the parts of this old axe with him. Amos's great grandson told him he could take whatever he wanted from the pile, as it was all of no use anymore here at Amos's farm.

Jeremiah took the old axe head and handle and left Amos's farm. He reassembled the axe and eventually came to be quite skilled in its use. In time, he began to build a log homestead of his own on a nice spot of land not far from Amos's old farm.

Between the axe at Amos's farm—the one you can see on a weekend tour of the place, with its safe, dull head and smooth handle and its nice glass case and little gold nameplate reading "Amos's Axe" and its lineage of careful caretakers—and the axe now in Jeremiah's possession—the axe composed of both the head and haft found in the clearing in the woods so long ago, the axe being used again now by a stranger off in the wilderness to bring high trees low and build them up again anew in arrangements of order and beauty—which of these would Amos love if he were to return?