I’ve come to believe that the motivation that drives me is one born from a desire to understand, as I’ve most likely stated here before. I suppose I’m not unique, it seems that at the essence of all things there’s a search for something that might answer a question or two. But, if one of those things can’t be found, perhaps an analogy or parable will suffice. It’s with great joy that I say that I might just have found that long sought after metaphor that can explain at the very least a splinter of these years.
Here I will attempt to share with you how I believe that the task of splitting wood has enlightened me to something whose importance has yet to be determined. Now, it should be said that the list of things I am not a professional at is long and varied, but at the top of that series of things are most physical labor intensive tasks. Yet, I feel comfortable saying that splitting wood can be boiled down to two steps. All else associated with it, belongs to a different analogy.
The first of these two steps is actually splitting the wood. It may seem strange to consider this the first step, but as I said prior, the various stages a tree goes through before it winds up in front of your axe-wielding hands deserves it’s own set of overly complicated musings.
The log you wish to split is stood up before you. You lower the blade down slowly at first, perhaps you leave a small mark, a promise of a more whole-hearted swing. You keep your eyes on that mark or space where you believe you’ll cleave through cleanly. With tremendous effort you raise the axe above you and you bring it down hard upon the wood. The head of the axe flattens and bounces away in a direction you didn’t believe possible. The muscles of your arms and back scream and the log simply topples over, not yet fit to be burnt.
It’s enough to bring out desires of heading back inside, convincing beliefs that a blanket will be enough to shield you from the cold. And, depending on the day, you may just act upon those new wants. But, if the day is right and the mind is in a state of determination, you pick the log up. There’s a new gash in it. Its rings marred in a place that you never intended to cut. You swing again. There’s a satisfying sound, like primal music, and the wood is indeed split. But, it’s not a perfect division. It may be a 30/70 split at best.
It goes on this way for awhile. You count the times you’ve raised the instrument of destruction and you know that it doubles the amount of times a more seasoned woodcutter would have. There’s a swelling inside, a tumor that pushes at your organs and without a single biopsy you know that it’s frustration. You should be better at this, it’s such a simple thing to do, swing an axe, cut the wood in two equal pieces. Nothing as frivolous as knots or poor aim should be enough to hold you back so much. You take this tumor and somehow divide it up, sending the pieces to your extremities, convinced that somehow it’ll be fuel. You don’t line up your swing first, you just exert yourself. You expect another failure, or a success that is only such by definition and not belief. The wood splits perfectly. The new planes on the two pieces are smooth as if ran through a machine. There’s no variation in depth nor height to impede your view of the grains and layers found inside.
It becomes clear that you’ve missed the point for so long. Taking all the time to line up a shot, ready a stance, setting a clear target didn’t amount to much. It was forgetting it all, and just swinging for the sake of swinging that led you through obscurities and obstacles and showed you what winning could actually feel like. You never leave its side and together you finish this step.
The next portion of this endeavor is optional. It’s absolutely without a doubt possible to leave the wood in unorganized piles. In a way it almost feels right, leave them where they lay, it’s where gravity and your exertion has sent the wood perhaps it should simply stay there. But to do this, is to deny yourself the satisfaction of taking stock of what you’ve done.
The foundation must come first. A solid layer upon which everything else you’ve done up to that point will be laid. The biggest, smoothest, pieces are used for this. The pieces that you feel the most proud of. With a level that can sustain the weight of all other things done, you begin to stack the rest.
Each piece you place on the stack is observed. You take note of whether or not you accomplished its separation via the axe or through angrily pulling at it, each binding strand being violently torn. The examination doesn’t take long and it’s placed on the blossoming pile in a place where it can do some sort of structural good.
After awhile the amount of wood that hadn’t been organized has dwindled and your new wall has been erected. You can no longer find a specific piece and know just how hard or easy it was to create it. They no longer have an individual identity, they’re simply part of the new stack, and are serving a purpose they can’t do on their own.
The stack is completed in an amount of time that you can no longer determine as either long or short. Those seconds have no meaning, all that matters is the wall in front of you. An accomplishment. Each piece holding an amount of your effort.
Now, I won’t deny the possibility that these words have been written as a frantic reach for something I could use to make sense of anything. This might absolutely be the truth, yet, they will be placed upon my stack regardless. And, when the time comes I will seek them out for their last purpose, and burn them for warmth, just like all the others.