Chopping Wood

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When we traded our apartment in Los Angeles for what we affectionately call 'affordable housing' in the resort town of Sedona, Arizona, we looked forward to chopping wood and hauling water–filling our days with work romanticized to seem simpler, and therefore purer, more esteemed, perhaps even more spiritual than commuting, working, commuting, sleeping, commuting, working…

We've chopped a lot of wood over the last nine years. We're in our fifth winter of heating primarily with free wood (the last four years almost exclusively). We enjoy the exercise. I get to use the chain saw and carry wood. I have only recently been able to wield a wood maul after more than two years off because of a shoulder injury I sustained at the gym. I missed the splitting. And stacking and restacking (a good way to work through anger or impatience).

Recently while meeting someone new at a regular Saturday morning discussion group, I mentioned it was a difficult commitment to be there every week, because otherwise, I'd be chopping wood and hauling water. He asked whether I meant that literally or figuratively. We've done so much of both–literally–that I'd almost forgotten it was first a metaphor for being grounded, for doing humble things, for addressing with excellence the tasks lying nearest.

Chopping wood…whatever that means to you…

  • forcing words onto paper
  • folding clothes for your family
  • forging new relationships, whether personal, political or professional
  • serving on committees, because you're capable, and someone has to do it

I won't claim any great zen insights from these mundane tasks. I enjoy the sheer physicality of swinging a sledge hammer, maul or axe with all my might, often then facing a test of strength to extract the tool from an unforgiving stump. But it's oh so sweet when the log splits perfectly, revealing that beautiful grain and seductive fragrance. Or when it flies into three parts on one blow.

When were we ever charged to appreciate life and its chores in a certain way? Is it not enough to put one foot in front of the other, and continue life's tasks—whether the right one first or the other one first. How do you know So-and-So who said there is a better way—and a lesser way—to live knew anything at all more than you know? Whatever you believe about that is something you decided in your own mind.

Have you just thought of some mind wood that begs chopping?

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