There is a Zen saying, “Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.” I don’t know about enlightenment or water, but we’ve certainly been chopping away at trunks and logs this year. Funny how living in the countryside shifts one’s perspective on priorities in life. After living through a couple of truly cold winters, the urge to get the wood in now runs deep within us. Security is a colossal stack of firewood.
After making the most common mistakes of beginning lumberjacks (click here for a long list of hurdles, blunders and remedies), a steep learning curve induced us to build a shelter with a corrugated roof for our wood. We pounded the backbreakingly heavy stump of an old oak into the ground and it now serves as an outsized chopping block. Not that we use it often. To save our backs, we soon invested in a hydraulic log splitting machine.
We’ve also grown to appreciate that there’s an art to stacking firewood. We’ve become meticulous about laying the logs, to erect neat rectangular piles that allow for the wood to breathe and dry. Because no matter how sore your body feels, you can’t just leave the wood dumped in a heap. You must stack. And stack. And stack.
Thankfully, there’s a spiritual side to stacking wood like there is to any mundane task. All it takes, is to make the work the meditation. Easier said than done, but then I have a lot of wood to practice with. So, here I am smiling, grateful for the wood, this gift from nature that will keep us warm. I’m not disheartened, but alert. I stop fighting what needs to be done. I’m present and focused and no longer compelled to watch the clock. I feel my body, I observe my thoughts as they come and go. I’m on my merry way to enlightenment, one log at the time.