The zen of cutting wood

Why chop wood?
What is the point of it? why bother when electric and gas power are so relatively cheap? why go to all that effort?
These are some questions you might well ask yourself, or be faced with at some point.
The answers, typically, are often not all that obvious.
Today I cut and chopped what I hope will be about enough wood for the next month. Here, we use wood for fuel, to keep warm; to heat water for dishes and to make hot drinks; to dry clothes and towels; to dry nuts and fruit and mushrooms, eggshells for chicken feed supplement, and maybe meat if we get the chance; and to cook with. The list goes on, we keep adding things to it when the opportunity arrises. when we eventually move into the house I am building, we plan to do all of the above, and heat enough water to shower with.
I felled our own pine, hurled it down one mountainside, carried it across a meadow, then up another mountainside, where I cut it and chopped it for firewood. if that sounds like a lot of effort, it was. but effort that is hard to price.
Wood out here is valued from about £35 a cord for pine, on up. it took me about half a day to cut and chop and pile about a half a cord, excluding the time it took to get it to the wood pile, the felling, the the limbing, the carrying, the disposal of the brashings, and the collection of the pine cones for fire lighters.
So that makes my day’s financial value not even £17.50, or £2.18 an hour, even if I could find a market, and that’s without considering the transport cost, or the felling and cutting cost, in terms of petrol and oil, chains, sparkplugs, and any of the sundry things I have to go through in order to do this. axe handle springs to mind.
The reason I do it isn’t financial, its because it means something to me. it always has.
I’ve cut and chopped wood since I was a kid. It was my thing then, and it still is. along with karate it has followed me wherever I go, whether it was cutting firewood at 30 below in the midst of winter in the Canadian north woods, or in 100 degree plus heat in the mountain forests of Portugal. It has been a part of my life for a long time.
Although at first it may seem like it bears no resemblance to karate, it does.
A long while ago, one of my karate instructors talked about karate training as paying into a bank. The bank of karate. you only got something out of it, if you put something in.
Cutting wood is the same. it’s hard work. its supposed to be, that is the beauty of it, and it is through the hardness of the work that the meaning of it begins to unfold.

The zen of cutting wood.

The hardness of it is a great constant, no matter how proficient your technique becomes at chopping, or using a saw. It doesn’t matter whether you cut with a hand-held crosscut saw, a bow saw or a chainsaw, or chop with an axe, a maul, a hatchet, or a hammer and wedge, the action is the same, the end result is the appreciably the same, the only difference is the method.
As you can probably guess, i am against log splitters driven by power take-off’s on tractors; take away the difficulty and you take away the meaning.
It is the meaning that is the point, and the things it facilitates are the things that help us to live comfortably.
The meaning of chopping wood is that it gives you as a person value, a deep reverberating value. A value that you can’t qualify in financial terms, because its meaning isn’t about money, but about worth.
Worth and money are not the same thing, thou some may substitute one for the other.
If you have never done it, you may wonder how chopping wood could possibly give you value? if you have chopped wood you might understand, or you may not, you may chop wood for years and never realise.
It’s value is in the hardness of the task, and the difficulty that it takes. The things we have to overcome within ourselves as much as the thing we are dealing with.
Nothing of worth comes easily, no task undertaken, no risk ventured, no love experienced.
It is only when we struggle that we begin to understand, and the more we struggle the more opportunity we are being given to understand, not that we necessarily do, but we are being given the opportunity.
We begin to understand the value of things, and how they relate to other things.
When we experience difficulty it gives us the opportunity to extend our capability. This is the greatest gift we can be given. Because when we can extend our capabilities it enables us, it enables us to do more, to be more. more alive. It awakens creativity within us. It enables us to more fully become the people we are supposed to be.
Eventually, when you no longer worry about your technique, but are lost in the doing of the task you will understand its value, its way, is beyond technique. It’s not so much doing cutting wood, as being cutting wood. and in that moment, like karate, it transcends ordinariness, and becomes zen, a zen thing, and an activity that enables you to appreciably attain a zen oneness of being. A oneness with and of all things.

This is the true value of cutting wood.

Cutting and chopping wood heats you many times. when you go to turn on your central heating, think about this for a moment.

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8 Responses to The zen of cutting wood

  1. michelle says:

    nice one Rick and Sarah!

  2. nice to hear from rick! love the post 🙂

  3. The Zen of cutting wood Eh.
    Fucking hell Rick.
    I reckon I move each peice, each log a minimum of 8 times from forest to fire…… Loves David

  4. Pete Bampton says:

    Hi Rick,
    Love this post…I didnt do much cutting wood this year as our wwoofers from Latvia did it…but I agree with your sentiments, it is all very character-building as well as sometimes backbreaking! I am have been doing alot of zen and the art of messing around on the quinta.

    Love Pete

  5. Derek says:

    This is true, i used to split lots of wood when i was a kid, for me it was all about finding bugs. I would spend hours finding wood boring beetle larvae, termite nests, scorpions (in Arizona) and carpenter bees. This preoccupation eventually led my parents to thinking something was wrong with me, like a beast of burden needing heavy labor to still its frantic mind, I'm not sure if they ever realized i was slowly becoming a biologist.

  6. Wendy says:

    Oh yes!! Good one. Watching Em's father (Highlander – born to it) chop wood 20 years ago: pure poetry in motion. Just watching was enough to transform my own technique by some strange osmosis from ineffectual hacking into serviceable success. For me it's about learning to read the wood — looking at a block and knowing exactly where to aim the axe to get that first crucial split clean and easy.

  7. Isabel says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Frieda says:

    My dad's 84 and a confirmed wood chopping afficianado. It fairly warms you up too.

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