We usually get our wood for the winter in early summer. This timing creates the luxury of a long slow stacking process, something we enjoy because there is no rush in getting it accomplished. Sometimes we stack as little as a cord a week. Our young strong friends scoff at our slowness, telling us they can stack a cord of wood in an hour. We admire their strength and speed even as we luxuriate in living in life’s slow lane, at least some of the time. The slow and steady rhythm appeals to us because stacking wood comes with certain risks, pinched fingers, bruised arms, legs, and feet, and complaining backs included. And yet, all of these possible injuries are overshadowed by the wisdom of our relationship with wood. As the sages tell us, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
This year, because of weather conditions, our wood arrived in early September. Folks who supply wood in these parts had torrential rains that prevented them from getting in to their woodlots and, when they weren’t chopping and delivering wood, many were cutting grass to supplement their income, grass that seemed to grow thigh high overnight in what felt like tropical rain-forest conditions. We were familiar with these constrictions and were glad to get our wood when it finally arrived.
September in northern Vermont is exciting. Some days harken back to the warmest, brightest August days, and some foreshadow the coldest and wettest of November. Because we knew the weather could change at any minute, our usual slow and easy approach to wood stacking disappeared beneath a sense of urgency, at least for the first wheelbarrow full of split logs. What soon happened, despite the possibility of inclement weather, was the recognition of our wood as an old friend. We slowed down and remembered to breathe when we were reminded of the common wisdom of being warmed by wood thrice: once when we harvest and split, a second time when we stack, and a third time when we capture its warmth in our wood stoves and fireplaces.
Although we usually do our stacking together, this year my husband and I took turns with the wood because of our work schedules. The days I stacked were full of sunshine and birdsong, and the wood offered various colours and textures to add to my tree-vocabulary lexicon. My muscles, worked through a pretty regular fitness routine, expressed delight in having something necessary to do, something they could take pride in at the end of the day. Ah, they seemed to say, this is what we’re really for.
I did not always feel this way about stacking wood. When I first arrived in the woods of Vermont’s North East Kingdom, my city-woman self looked with disbelief at what then seemed an impossible task. I had to make friends with my little-used physical-labour skills. I also wanted to make friends with these skills. My husband taught me how to avoid creating neat rows that looked stable and then suddenly collapsed. We worked together, guided by our intuition to choose the next log and the next and the next. Slowly, I got the hang of it, soon after graduating to fire making, and then, on a memorable, bright, late-fall day, to using a splitting maul.
I was in my late fifties when I moved to Vermont from Ontario’s Toronto area. All the prejudices against radical change rose up in my psyche at one time or another to tell me I should just pack it in and move back to the city. I still remember the look of astonishment on a friend’s face when she asked what I was doing up here alone in the woods and I told her I was learning to make fires. Her astonishment might have arisen from the belief that surely everyone knows how to make a good fire or from the prejudice that learning to make fires is hardly a worthy task. She never explained her expression and I never asked, but whatever might have run through her mind didn’t trouble me. When I chose to move to this rural part of Vermont, stacking wood was just one of the skills I wanted to learn in order to weave myself into the fabric of this place.
Ironically, my younger self would have offered up all kinds of resistance to learning these new physical skills. I say ironically because our culture insists that younger people are open and flexible and older people are rigid and closed off from life. Despite this cultural prejudice, I have found that one of the benefits of aging is my new found willingness to say yes to life and its requirements, no matter what these requirements happen to be. So far on my journey, this willingness is one of the greatest gifts of aging.
Tapping can help us to resolve our resistance to building new skills, to being helpful, and to learning that we are all invited to increase our flexibility and sense of adventure as we age. Far too often we hear, “That’s not my job,” or “I’m not doing that,” from young and old alike. While it is true that there are too many on-going crises in our world than we can reasonably expect to address, we can still make a positive difference in the world simply by learning to say yes to immediate challenges that invite us to develop new skills.
Tuning into our hearts, whether they grieve for Syria and the Middle East, gang violence here at home, or food issues all over the world, tells us where to begin. Once we know what troubles tug at our emotions most persistently, we can then meet the resistance that inevitably surfaces to tell us why we shouldn’t be involved. “What do I know? I’m just one person. It’s hopeless. There’s nothing anyone can do. It’s human nature,” are but a few of the “No” phrases we can tap on when we decide we want to become more flexible, more engaged, and more affirming in our lives.
What I have found when I tap on my resistance to becoming involved in something my heart won’t let me forget is that ideas regarding what I can do (without risking compassion fatigue) come soon after my tapping session. Along with these ideas, unique ways of becoming involved in highly creative ways present themselves. Saying yes to our involvement in situations that engage our hearts is very important. Our life’s work, regardless of who we are and what we do, is to open, to evolve, to say yes to life as it is, rather than to affirm what we think it should be. Saying yes softens our hearts, brightens our outlook on life, and connects us with others who have also adopted this yes approach to living.
Looking back on my life, I see miracle after miracle emerge from the chaos of not knowing why my heart ached even as I knew I had to take some action or other to respond. I am so very glad I’ve lived long enough to see this pattern of confusion resolve into the brilliant clarity saying yes leads to. Willing to be uncertain regarding the reason for my involvement, beyond my heart’s imperative, often in situations that confused, frightened, or angered me, has opened the door to astonishing discoveries, not the least of which involves my wood stacking adventures.
Had I said no to the huge mountain of split logs that arrive every year, I might never have discovered a perfect heart carved by nature into one of them. I continue to live with this treasure and take to heart its message whenever I feel discouraged about the world. Hamlet was right: there truly are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophies. Saying yes to life engages us with the larger forces that are doing their very best to fuel the magic that delivers miracles to us every day.
Until next week