When I left my civilian job in the Pentagon, a dear friend and colleague texted that he was in the process of building my going away gift and needed a few measurements from me. Would I please send him the width of my hand, arm-length, and height whenever I got a moment?

Coming from anyone else, a text like this would serve up a nice little cocktail: two parts anxiety, one part curiosity. Coming from this particular friend however – a former Special Forces operator, avid outdoorsman, and skilled woodworker – it was cause for excitement.

When we met at his woodshop, he presented a custom-made axe. The axe-head hailed from the 1940s, rescued from rust and an antique lot in Chattanooga. The haft, which I soon learned was the proper name for the handle, was Appalachian Ash from western North Carolina (also known colloquially “Hillbilly Hardwood.”)

axe Photo by Bill Rivers

Axes were this officer’s passion, and this one was mine. In my hands, it was more natural a fit, more evenly balanced, than any tool I’d ever held.

“It needs a name,” my friend said.

“Bombadil,” I replied instantly, in honor of Tolkien’s prelapsarian man.

“Never sell it,” he said.


“It was made to be used, so use it.”

And I do – as often as I can find an excuse.

For example, last winter, a heavier than expected snowfall in our suburban neighborhood brought a pine bough into the street. Eagerly I was out with Bombadil to hack up the branch and restore the flow of traffic. In summer and fall, any excuse for the firepit is an excuse for Bombadil and me to scout for deadfall in the nearby woods. Come Christmas, when our oddly shaped tree needed a true trimming, down came Bombadil, ever so gently shaving branches and pine needles onto the living room floor.

I grew up swinging axes at my grandparents’ place, and the work – the workout – certainly takes me back. The labor lets the mind wander. Yet it was not until I encountered the below quote that my reflections about Bombadil focused:

"Long periods of peace and quiet favor certain optical illusions. Among them is the assumption that the invulnerability of the home is founded upon the constitution and safeguarded by it. In reality, it rests upon the father of the family who, accompanied by his sons, appears with the ax on the threshold of his dwelling." – Ernst Jünger

I am a father. Our current dwelling in suburbia was a safe-enough place when we moved in, though tire jackings, petty thefts, and alas, shootings are on the rise. But it occurred to me, for a young suburban dad, owning an axe in 2023 is rarer than it used to be. And if you don’t have an ax, how do you clear the road? How do you bring nature to your children on a warm summer evening? And how do you “appear on the threshold of your dwelling” if things go awry?

To the last question, most might answer, “With my iPhone to call the cops.” To the broader question of how to protect and provide for a family, they might add, “With my job and expertise, my network and my resume.”

Fair enough. Until recently, I’d have answered the same way. Now, I think about protecting my family through my physical, mental, and spiritual strength – and my axe. (Go ahead and read that last bit in John Rhys-Davies’s “Gimli” voice.)
And now there’s one more question I ponder while swinging old Bombadil.

Can the tool that built the country – literally hewing old growth forests into first-time homesteads – play a role in its restoration? And what kind of role? There’s so much to be done and un-done. The work of rebuilding local communities with meaningful centers of social, economic, and spiritual gravity is a construction project that requires building, literally and figuratively.

But might we be better off taking the proverbial ax to some structures? Systems of censorship or coercion, especially those aiming at political uniformity come to mind. It may be that, for some of these systems, “even now the ax lies at the root of the trees,” as John the Baptist metaphorically warned: forthcoming Congressional investigations into the political weaponization of federal agencies may be only the thin – but sharp – edge of the wedge.

If so, then good. True conservationists know clearing deadwood helps maintain the health of a forest, forestalling and even preventing catastrophically destructive wildfires. So with a civic body. Chop at the top, build at the base.

So fellas, but especially fathers: get yourselves an axe. Go chop wood. Get strong. Build those better centers of gravity in your local community. And if necessary, appear with your axe on the threshold of your dwelling.

Bill Rivers is the author of the Amazon Kindle #1 bestseller in historical fiction Last Summer Boys. A former U.S. Senate and Pentagon speechwriter, he works in communications in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @riverswrites.