RALPH BARTHOLDT: Throwing in the towel on winter with a good axe-tossing contest

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A hatchet works.

Or an ax, but certainly not a splitting maul. And it isn’t for the lack of trying.

A splitting maul, when it turns in the air, is like an antique wagon wheel.

It’s like those cumbersome splintered wheels placed in a garden with the cedar yard bark mouldering around them as they melt into the earth, because what else is there to do with a wagon wheel these days?

I mean, really.

Ranch houses sometimes have wagon wheel chandeliers that are meticulously sandblasted, the good ones, the ones from ox carts unpurchased and left in the showroom when cars came along.

They are sold on eBay to ranchers who have them cleaned and heavily lacquered. They fasten lights to them and suspend the 85-pound wood and metal discs directly over the dinner tables.

Who hasn’t eaten scalloped potatoes and ham on china plates illuminated by the white light from the undusted bulbs of wagon wheel chandeliers?

So, for a throwing tool — because they are graceful as wagon wheels — splitting mauls won’t do.

They are unwieldy, especially the nine-pounders, and because they are made to split bolts by divine combination of angle, weight and wedge size perpetrated by brutish force and a learned swing, sticking into a block of wood is not what splitting mauls do best.

Which is kind of the point of throwing an ax, or a hatchet, for wagers.

Once in a logging camp during spring break up, with little to do but sweep the shop floor with brooms tentatively attached to long handles that could find dirt and dust on the concrete even if it had just moments before been lavishly swept, we practiced before we wagered.

Our small contingent of men and boys were made aware, uniformly, and almost at the same time of multitudinous axes, hatchets and splitting mauls leaning in corners, lying on benches and on the bench seats of crew cab pickup trucks, while coincidentally, big blocks of wood steamed outside under sun-melted snow.

The combination seemed rife.

There is a certain stance that must be learned, however, when throwing a shop ax or a hatchet toward the end of a cedar log. It usually takes a solid 10 seconds to master.

If cedar prices are low and the log deck has what can be referred to as pumpkins with big fulsome ends — as ours did — painted with a smiley face using a can of yellow or orange tree-marking paint — as ours did — the contest may pleasantly commence.

A brief wait as the audience gives pointers to the contestant is followed by jeers, chuckles or laughs wholly depending on the thrower’s lack of prowess, or dead eye.

Clever audience members are tight-lipped and expect the same in return when, as contestants, they cartwheel their hatchet or ax through the air and watch it strike the log face in an unseemly manner before bouncing off wildly in some unanticipated direction.

This is called dangerous.

It is followed by a chorus of “Ooooooo.”

A long-handled camp ax throws differently than a two-bit lopping ax, or a short, wedge driving hatchet.

That is a tip.

Sharp axes stick pretty good, but a dull one works too and just because you throw an ax in one direction doesn’t mean it won’t bounce in another.

That’s also a pointer, pardon the pun.

I am much older now than even the men in that logging shop back then, and I would give another piece of advice leveraged by dotage:

Proceed at your own risk.

Sometimes there is not a lot to do in the spring but to seek a diversion, and ax throwing — not the tossing of splitting mauls — once fit that bill.

Digression is also how the game of Monopoly was invented.

And that too, can be a lot of fun.

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