AN AXE TO TREASURE (January 20/95)

If you ask me where I got the old axe hanging on my basement wall, you’ll probably laugh when I reply that my bird dog brought it home.

Actually, someone lost the axe in an alder covert last fall and Dram sniffed it out when I was looking for woodcock. It was the first time I ever had a dog retrieve an axe, which he sort of did when he dragged it out of a thicket by its handle.

Why am I going on about an axe my dog found? Is it an antique, a collector’s item? A one-of-a-kind axe worth a small fortune?

None of the above. It’s just an old axe that might have sold for a few bucks when new. It’s made in an unusual style, however, and you’ve got to go back to the Simpson’s catalogues of the ’30s to find something like it. It’s actually a cross between a hatchet and a full-size woodsman’s axe. Something grandpappy might carry along as an afterthought when he was spending a few leisurely hours in the woods.

Because it’s fairly old and because of the circumstances under which I obtained it, I’ll always treasure that old axe.

Some day Dram will be a memory. But when I look at the axe hanging on my wall, that warm October afternoon in a South Mountain alder covert and many other golden hunting days with Dram will come to mind. The axe will be the catalyst.

Most people who enjoy the outdoors have some sort of axe that they treasure. An axe is indispensable if you spend any time camping and hunting. At one time it was said that a woodsman was only a good as his axe. That was in the days when man was self-sufficient and lived close to the woods. The days when having a good axe meant you were able to survive.

I’ve always wondered why no one ever proposed that we use the axe as the symbol of Canada. Canadian pioneers blazed their way into the wilderness with their axes. Long before the first settlers trod our shores, the axe was the main item of barter in the Canadian fur trade.

Even our language has been made more picturesque because of the axe. I imagine you’ve had more than one “axe to grind” in your day. When you’ve destroyed something, an object or an idea, you’re “put the axe to it.” Hopefully, you’ve never “got the axe” at your job.

I recall the long-handled axes that stood against the chopping block when I was a boy. My father occasionally made his own axe handles. He insisted on treating the handles by burying them in horse manure for weeks. “It makes them springier,” he used to say.

The axe Dram found in the woods has a handle called the fawn foot. There are other handle patterns – scroll and knob end, for example – but the fawn foot is said to be one of the oldest in use.

I’ve never heard it elsewhere, but my father said that the handle and head of the axe are named after parts of the body. The handle has a shoulder and belly. The head of the axe has an eye, face, heel and toe.

Unless someone can describe and claim the old axe that graces my wall, I will probably pass it on to the next generation of hunters in the family. An axe stuck in a stump in the backyard is supposed to bring luck, but mine will stay on the wall until younger hands come along.

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