'We go out rain or shine': Workers cut firewood for elderly, people with disabilities

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

NASCHITTI — Tyler James unloaded an ax from his car and asked Naschitti resident Wilhelmina Noble how she wanted her firewood cut, then he got to work chopping the pile of aspen and pine logs.

"We go out rain or shine," said James as gray clouds threatened to bring rain on Jan. 27.

He was hired by the Naschitti Chapter to cut firewood for community members. The service is an effort by the chapter government to help residents who need some extra help to endure the winter weather.

Noble has a son who lives and works in Farmington. During his weekend visits, he cuts wood for Noble and her husband.

Byron Hunt chops wood on Jan. 27, 2020, at Wilhelmia Noble's home in Naschitti as a part of Naschitti Chapter's wood chopping program for the elderly, single parents and people with disabilities.

He has been under the weather in recent weeks, causing the couple to get by as best they can. With Noble having arthritis in her wrists and concerns about her husband's health, they were grateful the workers stopped by.

"Thank you. Thank you for chopping woods for us," she said while walking by after checking on her livestock.

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Chapter Manager Carissa Wood explained the assistance is open to elderly people, single-parent households and people with disabilities who reside in the community.

Participants are also referred from the community health representative for the Navajo Department of Health.

The chapter hired James, along with Byron Hunt and Faron Tsosie, under the public employment project, a tribal government program that provides short-term employment and job training for chapter residents.

They have been visiting residences to chop firewood throughout January.

"We try to incorporate resources and services through the chapter to help the community and this is one of them that is a high need every year," Wood said.

Giving back to Naschitti

After talking to Noble's husband about where to stack the firewood, James, Hunt and Tsosie continued working until reaching the one-hour limit, then drove to the next residence on their list.

Throughout the day there was banter and teasing comments between the men, but mostly they concentrated on work.

Tsosie said the service is a way to give back to the area where he grew up.

"It's very enjoyable knowing that you're out there helping the elderly, helping people. I'm a people person, so I like going out there helping people," Tsosie said.

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For Hunt, the employment is helping him learn more about Naschitti, including visiting with community members who live on Ch'ooshgai Mountain and along the chapter's eastern boundary with Whiterock Chapter.

"I was born and raised here, and I like helping my community," he said.

The overall experience has been good, but there are challenges when dealing with unruly dogs or when rain and melting snow wets the wood.

"If the whole thing is wet and when you hit it, you'll see the juices come up. That's when you have to use a wedge," James said.

'I'm just grateful (for) ... these programs'

Bill Goldtooth lives in a one room house that was built in the early 1960s and located west of U.S. Highway 491.

Goldtooth relies on a wood stove — he estimated it is about 40 years old — but when temperatures fall below 30 degrees and the air drafts from the windows, it is of no use.

"Of course, you have these heaters — electric ones — but there goes your electric bill," he said while gesturing to a nearby electric space heater.

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Recipient of Naschitti Chapter's wood chopping services, Bill Goldtooth, in his home in Naschitti on Jan. 27, 2020.

He learned to chop wood when he was either 4 or 5 years old. Now 61, he said the cold weather bothers him when preparing firewood.

"I started really early because my father split. Then there was me, my mom and my brothers and sisters. I'm the oldest one, so I had no choice — survival," he said.

This is the second time the employees have visited Goldtooth's residence. 

"I'm just grateful that they have these programs. It helps a little," he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.