I have been throwing an axe for years.
West Point, California women annually throw their axes on Lumberjack Day in competition, before a standing bull’s eye. Axes fly end over end, and smash into shaken beer cans located in the center of the bulls’eye. West Point, Calaveras County, west of Nevada in the Central Sierra Foothills, once flourished as a logging community, but no longer. The eight hundred person town has a forty-year history of annual parades, with over 75 floats and afternoon logging activities. Professional logger skills are performed in an arena format by members of the community.
After watching my first competition, I spoke with my favorite thrower, confiding that I also wanted to compete.
“Yeah, right,” she said.
I made up my mind to go for my dream, and went looking for my axe. I found my $40 double headed axe in a bin of axes near the shovels at Orchard Supply in San Rafael, California.
I walked as low-key way as possible to the cash register, with the blade beside my leg . An older lady saw me standing in line, nodded her head toward my new axe.
“ Now that’s a presence.”
” Yes ‘Mam, it surely is.”
I paid for it with my debit card. How many loggers do that?
I’ve got peasant hands that look like they’ve done work. My split cuticles look more like a logger’s than a princess. I’m no cupcake. In Alaska, I chopped kindling with a handy small hatchet and almost cut off my left forefinger by not being careful. I’ve got the scar to prove it.
My builder friend carefully looked at my new axe handle and noticed the wood grain was not straight. By God, the handle had a crack right by the bit! I returned it, hoping for another axe with a better straight grain handle and no crack. I felt lucky to get the only other axe, better than the first one. People like me aren’t hip to the grain anymore, like in lumberjack times. My friend sawed the handle down for me, for a comfortable grip in my hands, and wrapped in baseball tape.
“ Hold the axe sideways when you walk. Proper carriage matters, like walking with a pair of scissors, blade down. That way if you trip you won’t cut your arm off or dig into you chest.” He warned.
Damn, this is serious! I’m learning in a fun-scary overwhelming sort of way. I thanked him for the tips.
Autumn in West Point is brilliant in gold, yellow and bright orange colored leaves. Upon return, I went out into our property in search of an old stump, to practice. My axe weighs over four pounds, and its blades gleamed with new sharpness, like holding a battleaxe, ancient Celtic weapon, designed to throw at Klan enemy’s heads.
When I first pulled the axe over my head, it felt like I could either split logs or let it fly. A double bit could be twice as dangerous. I didn’t want to lose a limb or plant it in my forehead like in cartoons. My focus remains on the target, to gracefully sink the blade into the center of the bull’s eye like it was born there. Once or twice I hit the stump and heard that satisfying thump.
My axe case looks chic and snuggly in its custom bag. I found a partially made Kelly green and lime green purse, which fits the blade perfectly. I punched a few holes and made knot buttons for strap closures on each side of the blade. I no longer stress about cutting off my leg when I walk outside. Safety first.
A local man told me it was about balance, getting the whole body focused on what’s in front. Rebound is my main concern.
“Be careful where you throw it, because you never know if there’s a rock down below the ground, and you could wreck your axe.”
I practiced inhaling when I raise it over my head, and exhale as I throw it.
My throws continue to get stronger at every practice. Practice improves rhythm and my breath. I keep my feet balanced, lift up my eyes to the target and shove the axe forward.
Swit, it sticks into the round at about three o’clock. I walk over and remove it about ten times, remembering the feeling, the center and my humility.
I told my Bay Area friends I was training for competition, and they were surprised. One of them said,
“What could go wrong??”