Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Please welcome the new arrival in the Bide-A-Wee family, Pippi Ulriksdotter. Pippi, as you can see, is an axe, a large splitting axe, to be precise, from the Granfors Bruks forge in Bergsjo, Sweden. Pippi was a birthday present from my dear wife, came my way about a month ago. Mary presented me with a long, flattish, ill-wrapped box that day, and as I opened it I wondered if maybe she'd gotten me the Fender Stratocaster that I have long yearned for. Instead, inside, another sort of axe, the literal sort.... I was not disappointed. (And anyway, with no electricity at Bide-A-Wee, an electric guitar wouldn't be much good out there; maybe next year we'll have power in the country, and I'll be able to plug in and wail some "Smoke on the Water" down the valley, like in that great scene from Errol Morris's Gates of Heaven ...if I get a Strat next year, that is, hint, hint....)
On how the axe came to have the name Pippi Ulriksdotter: We have a Nomenclature Tsarina at Bide-A-Wee, that being Lulu. Tsarina Lulu (aka our "daughter" Melinda, another story...) works remotely, though she visits Bide-A-Wee frequently. 'Twas she who came up with the name Bide-A-Wee for the cabin, and she also named the woodstove Haggis. That's how she got to be the Tsarina. And, uh, those are the only things we've given names to, fortunately--oh, except for the outhouse that holds our composting toilet, and which we call the Tardis, after the Doctor Who spaceship that looks like an English phonebooth from the outside, which the outhouse somewhat resembles, though, come to mention it, the Tsarina pointed out recently that our Tardis is actually sort of an anti-Tardis, as ours looks bigger from the outside than it seems once you get inside, which is true, it's kind of cramped...anyway.... But Tardis is more generic than a specific proper name.
Well, I got the axe, and I tried it out, and man, was I impressed. I've gone through a couple of Menard's axes in the last couple of years. I thought maybe I was doing something wrong in approach or technique, or that our wood was just particularly gnarly, too young, too dry, too cross-grained, something. No: I just didn't have the proper tool. With little ado this axe can knock apart dense oak logs, twisty apple trunks. Maple, birch? Fuggedaboutit. And it does so with style, with attitude. It was clearly an axe with personality, so we decided it should have a name, and so we called the Tsarina, and the Tsarina said she would give it some thought. And then the Tsarina called back, and said she had the perfect name: Pippi Longstocking.
I scoffed. You shouldn't scoff at a Tsarina, but I did. Like I was going to name my magnificent, manly axe after a freckle-faced, red-headed pigtailed girl in striped stockings! The Tsarina was a little miffed with the scoffing, but she continued to make her case: Pippi was Swedish, like the axe; Pippi possessed super-human strength, "the strength of ten policemen"; Pippi for sure had style and attitude.
I was not convinced. I was leaning toward Sigurd. We sort of let the matter drop. Another issue I had, Pippi Longstocking is a name that's already taken--my axe should have its own distinctive handle(!). But the more time I spent with the axe--and I took every opportunity to make my way to the woods where I had chain-sawed some small oaks into sections, to experience that deep satisfaction that comes from efficient wood-splitting--the more my inclination drifted back to Pippi. It wasn't really size, weight, or dint of brute force that made the axe such an estimable tool. It was the design, the thoughtfulness, the Swedishness of it. And, now, I'm not going to go down some weird road to explore the sex roles of wood-cutting tools, but there came a day when I realized, Well, why can't my axe be a girl? A really awesome girl, named in honor of one of the coolest Tomboys in all of kiddie lit? I read all those Pippi Longstocking books when I was a kid, and I had admired Pippi then, but I hadn't thought about those books in a long time. Tsarina Lulu had.
The final piece was hitting upon Pippi's surname. Along with the axe came a booklet, "The Axe Book." It tells you all about where and how the Gransfors Bruks axes are made, and it even tells you who makes them. There's sort of a class picture of the axe-making team, and each axe is stamped with the initials of its maker. Mine was made by Ulrik Nilsson. He looks like an unassuming, tall and thinnish man with a crewcut and a prominent Adam's-apple, standing at the back of the back row.
I called the Tsarina, and told her what I was thinking, and she agreed: Pippi Ulriksdotter would be an excellent name for the Bide-A-Wee large splitting axe, that has already become a cherished, albeit taciturn, member of the family.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw