The Wisdom of Chopping Wood

The Wisdom of Chopping Wood
For those of you who know me well and think me eclectic and old-fashioned, this will come as no surprise.
I have recently fallen in love with the simple and outdated art of chopping wood.
No, this is not a euphemism. I seriously have fallen in love with chopping wood.
I was out there today, swinging my axe, which my wife (thankfully) agreed to let me purchase. I guess I finally convinced her that an axe has more uses than self-defense during the Zombie Apocalypse, which I'm sorely disappointed did not happen last year (that's another story for another time).
As my Austin friends know, it was disappointingly damp today with little to no sunshine. The day was abysmally grey. We just bought some chunks of wood for our chimnea, and they were far too big to put inside the pit. I needed to make the bits smaller. I gathered the wood, set them up, one by one, on my block, and started swinging away. About ten minutes into it, I was sweating, my forearms were burning, and I was breathless.
Nowadays, we have cute little prepackaged slugs of wood. Someone, or something, has done all the hard work for us so that we can illuminate our chintzy fireplaces and astound our friends with our "homey" feel. We forget that wook chopping was birthed out of necessity. It became imperative that our ancestors build fires. In fact, paleoanthropologists point to fire as the trigger for higher order thinking. Abraham Lincoln, one of the Greats, handled an axe his entire life, chopping wood. A biographer of his, DennisHanks, said of his ability: "My, how he could chop! His ax would flash and bite into a sugar-tree or sycamore, and down it would come. If you heard his fellin' trees in a clearin' you would say there was three men at work by the way the trees fell."
There's something primordial, gritty, that goes on when you grip a wooden axe handle.
That's when I started to think about what I was actually doing. I was chopping wood, sure, but I felt that zen quality that comes with riding motorcycles, painting pictures, knitting sweaters, etc. And here are some lessons that I think we could all learn from this simple pastime.
1.  Have a sturdy base. This goes for everyone. You need someone who will keep your goals steady for you. The block represents that person who is always there to uphold your dreams. Sure, they may get kicked, scraped, and cut, but they see past all the misses that you swing and are still there, cradling your hopes. On top if this, be sure to ground yourself in some sort of philosophy. I'm not telling you to be come religious. I am, however, telling you that you need a moral grounding. You need to develop a compass that always points you north.
The art of being a man is balanced. Oftentimes we find ourselves at a crossroads, each path pointing to a thousand different directions. We have to be a father, a husband, a son, a teacher, a philosopher, an artist, and a lover. It's difficult to find where we belong. Build yourself into a circle and let the axe lead where you will.
2. Speaking of bases, keep it level. Be honest not only with your own aspirations but with the people who are here to help you. Honesty still is the best policy. The other lesson here is that sometimes you may feel wobbly, and that's okay. You have to be honest with yourself.
In another respect, don't loose your temper. And if you do, do so in private. No one needs to see you fly off the handle.
3. Stay balanced. The log will fall if it isn't nested. Also, it sucks swinging the axe at a log that's falling over. In other words, don't overburden one area of your life while neglecting the others. Don't obsess over work while ignoring your relationships. Also, don't devote too much of your time to your relationship. Too much affection can suffocate. In the same stroke (pun intended), you don't want to be the axe, swinging at a target that doesn't exist. Set your sights high, but not so high that you cannot conceivably hit them.
4. Form over function. When you're standing there, axe over your head, you know whether or not the blade is going to come down in the right spot. Recklessness has its place, but when it comes to accomplishing your goals, don't substitute efficiency for speed. If you swing that axe the wrong way, you're going to cause damage to something or someone.
In much the same way, don't forget that you have to be kind and careful with other people. Every person you meet is an opportunity. Some may sit on the block right the first time. You might have to work on others to get the balance just right. Regardless, if you are off balance, no matter how well seated the log is, you're going to miss. That axe blade might just fly off into your bedroom window.
5. Strike true. This one correlates to the previous bit of wisdom and it's broken up into three parts. Part one: build momentum. Your dreams won't just happen automatically. You have to work for them. Here's the kicker: once you build that momentum, it's hard to stop. You'll find yourself accomplishing goal after goal after goal. You've developed a method that works. Here's an easy way to start- smile more.
Part two: follow through. In other words, become a person of your word. Once you start something, finish it. Do what you say you will. Don't promise yourself to something you cannot do.
Part three: if you get stuck, keep chopping. When you're out there with just a chunk of wood and your axe, sometimes the blade gets stuck halfway through the slice. That's okay! Just don't panic and quit. Swing that bad boy around and whack it again! You'll burn more calories, and you'll really feel like you've accomplished something.
6. Benefits multiply. If you're faced with an issue too large to comprehend by itself, chop it up into smaller steps. Do you think someone looked at a maple and said to themselves, I bet that tree will fit into my fireplace? No! They grabbed their saw, took it down, chopped it into small bits and THEN burned it. Much easier to transport.
7. Small stuff burns. Once you whittle that large log down to easily manageable pieces, they burn bright and fast. You'll be able to tackle smaller problems much more easily than large ones.
In the realm of the interpersonal, remember that small notions are always appreciated. Don't forget that holding the door open for others, saying please and thank you, complementing a lady's scarf always, ALWAYS, are appreciated. These little gestures burn just as bright and hot as the larger gestures. And, you need them to start the fire burning. On top of that, you'll be able to make that fire burn longer.
8. Find the sweet spot. There's a spot on every log that, when hit, will split the log straight in two easy as pie. It doesn't happen with every swing. There's going to be a time where you hit a knot and the blade stops frozen. However, once you hit it, it's a thing of beauty. Wait for it. Look for it. Don't stop until you find it. That sweet spot will show up and all that work you've been doing is finally going to pay off.
9. Get dirty. It was a cold day. My breath was casting little grey shadows over my knuckles. Occassionally, it would creep up under my glasses and fog up my vision. I was standing in mud. The sweat was streaking down my face. Wood splinters were flying up into my jacket and the mud was caking to my sleeves from carrying the wood to and from the block. It was glorious. There is no greater feeling in the world knowing that the work I put in is good, solid work. Not only that, but the work I put in benefited me.
Take this approach with your relationships. Sometimes, you'll be standing in the mud. Sometimes, it's going to be a struggle. That's okay! Take the time to work through it. A few friends of mine give up at the first sign of hard work. Well, I've been married for almost 6 years, her parents have been married for 33. We'll both tell you that occassionally you have to stand in the rain. If the relationship is worth it to you, then fight for it! Get dirty! It makes cleaning up that much more fun.
10. Don't leave your axe in the rain. Truth be told, this is not my first axe. I had a hatchet, one that I could throw. It served no real purpose; I didn't need it for anything. So, I threw it, thinking myself a circus performer. Well, you guessed it, I left it in the rain. And, you guessed it, it rusted and fell apart. Oh well, I thought. A year later, I found myself in a predicament. One of the logs for our fireplace was far too big. It hanged out on the hearth, which was incredibly dangerous. My wife gave me that "I told you so" look and I vowed not to leave my cool stuff in the rain again.
What does this have to do with real life? Don't leave the people who support you out in the rain. Come back to them. They are your friends. Treat them well. Love them. Support them back by being their axe. When you need a large log cut down, they'll be there, by your side, helping you once again.

A final note: clean up. Don't leave any loose ends. And, above all else, enjoy yourself. Work is work if you do it grudgingly.
Live. Laugh. Chop wood.


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