Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tote Water, Chop Wood

Buddha’s followers once asked him, “Master, what should we do before we attain enlightenment?”

He answered, “Tote water, chop wood.” 

“What should we do after we attain enlightenment?”

He responded, “Tote water, chop wood.”

I certainly haven’t reached enlightenment, but I am working on the other two. 

Every few days I lug 8 gallon jugs I have filled with lake water up the hill to locations near gardens, the chickens, and the burn barrel. 

Today, I started to chop wood.  I had postponed this endeavor because I was leery of my uncoordinated potential, swinging a heavy, sharp axe through the air and back toward body parts I value.  So I decided to start with something a bit less intimidating:  using a hand axe (about the size of a long hammer, but with a much heavier head) to split logs into kindling. 

I was pleased to find my aim truer than I expected, but after the first few logs my back ached.  To alleviate this, my father-in-law suggested that I lift a spruce end left over from cabin construction up onto the back porch while I stood on the ground below.  Having the target logs raised to my hip height allowed for a good range of arm motion while protecting my back.  After ten or so minutes I got the hang of it:  Stand the wood on end, identify the grain, raise my arms up high and chop it with gusto in half lengthwise, and then each new piece in half again, as thin as I want them to be.  Thwack, thwack, miss, thwack.  I found the process surprisingly satisfying.  It was mindless and productive (and not as tiring as lugging water jugs).   I could just about hear and smell the crackly, warm fires these slim pieces of birch will start on some future chilly morning.  Over the course of an hour I filled a trash can with kindling and layered more on shelves just outside the back door. 
Safety glasses on!
(The building behind me is the shower house) 

Meanwhile, my husband, much more confident with cutting devices than I, had toted his Husqvarna 455 chainsaw out back to chop up a big birch tree.  It had uprooted sometime last fall and crashed through the boughs of a taller tree, bringing down some of the lower limbs.  What a windfall of future fuel!  To turn the tree into usable firewood took several days of work and will require a year of aging. Two days ago, we weed whacked the chest high grass and devil’s club along both sides of the tree to clear a safe and predictable foothold.  Yesterday, he limbed the tree and pulled the branches away from the trunk.  Today, he cut the 60 foot trunk into forty rounds, each one 18 inches thick (since that is a good length for our woodstove) and about 2 feet across at the base.  Since the tree fell over, rather than died, the wood is still green and the rounds are really heavy - he estimates 80 lbs.  He will let them dry and lighten for a year and then chop the rounds into quarters next summer.  We have one end of the wood corral reserved for ready firewood and the other end for “new wood” that is still aging.

Addressing future firewood needs in July, I feel like the ant in Aesop’s Fable about the grasshopper.  My husband likes the exercise that is both practical and aesthetic, enjoying the spruce-y scent of the woods and the relaxing sound of the water slapping the dock.  What a contrast to exercise in our erstwhile city life, watching the news on a treadmill at a city gym!  Maybe among the nuances of Buddha's message are these:  1) no matter what else you may be doing, you need to take care of yourself and 2) enlightment occurs through the process of living, not separate from it, even as mundane as toting water and chopping wood.  Thwack!  

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