Tamera Schlueter Hard work brings full January moon to life

This week welcomes the first full moon of 2014. Native Americans call it a “Wolf Moon,” so named from hungry wolves howling in the biting cold by Indian villages. It’s a fitting name, as there is indeed something carnal about a cold, dark January, when spring is but a faraway dream.

We humans have veered quite far from ancestral wanderings beneath that fat, winter moon. We chug away on treadmills in gyms swamped with resolution hopefuls, and grimace upon post-holiday scales. Gone are the days when exercise was just an ordinary part of a hard day’s work — for most of us anyway.

There’s something about that January moon that stirs an ancient yearning to work with iron and wood; turning nothing into something of bona fide use. Hunka Burnin’ Hubby is the January moon come to life.

My husband is a man of few words, but what he makes with his hands speaks volumes for a character grounded in old-fashioned effort. “Wood pile’s getting low,” he announced a couple days ago. “Want to ride along to cut some more?”

The Schlueterville setters and I pile into his enormous truck, and watch a parched-brown world go by as we pull a flatbed trailer down sleeping gravel roads. There’s something sad and unnatural about a bone-dry winter. Perhaps the Wolf Moon will call in some much needed January snow.

We drive into a friend’s field on a waning afternoon, a cornfield bordered by elm, mulberry and ash. Most of the trees are strong and healthy. Others have given up the ghost. We find one fallen in a heap, way back in a mass of tangled brush.

“This’ll do,” says Hunka, and we haul heavy log chain and a couple chainsaws to the site. The man looks at home in his natural environment, moving with an ease born from making a living with calloused hands. The setters launch into the tall brown grass, disappearing from view in the wink of an eye to flush up quail and track the scent of deer. Across the field a huge horned owl glides from his treetop perch, in search of a quieter place of sentry.

As for me, I put on a show, screwing in spongy orange earplugs and pulling on heavy leather gloves. But my Iowa farm-kid days have long been replaced with an office desk and computer screen. I stomp about in scuffed hiking boots, but am largely out of my element.

Hunka yanks the cord and the saw barks to life, kicking out sawdust as it slices through twisted trunk and heavy branches. Chunks of wood fall to the ground, launching clouds of powdery dust. I step away from the carnage to whistle for the setters, making sure their noses haven’t taken them too far.

We worked for hours in relative silence, in a setting far too many people never have the chance to experience. He cuts the wood and chains it together. I pull it from the brush by way of bumper hitch and churning diesel truck. In an odd sort of way, we’re a bit like wolves howling in the January cold outside the village, warning the world to stay out of the way.

Tonight we’ll build a fire with the wood we gathered, in the stone fireplace Hunka built with his own two hands. Perhaps we’ll don flannel and wool socks for cheesy authentic flair, and drink hot chocolate as we watch the flames dance and pop.

And we’ll step outside to greet that wolfish January moon.

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