Meditation on Chopping Wood

from the forthcoming Dream Dialectic, The Little Death

choppingwood
photo by Willow Zef

The ax flows like the wind striking into the fallen tree with fervor. At this point it makes more of a dent in the wood than a clean cut. Slicing through the air it comes down with a loud whack hitting the tree at various angles trimming more and more whey from the thick of its yellow interior.

I stand there sweating. At my back stands a large bonfire with many fellow revelers who journeyed here in the dark through a valley of tall thicket and bramble pushed back by our hosts to form a path. In the city, hedges this high are considered weeds. Out here in the mountains this is nature. Untouched and untrained by man’s hand until a few hours ago earlier tonight. And the forest. Oh, the forest that surrounds us. Dark and mysterious. Full of the old preamble of fallen logs and there is no one who lives out here to tell it.

And here I am, miming the energy of Neal Cassidy holding an ax high over my head, jargon and random curses spitting out of my tongue, on top of one hill looking up to another, attempting the impossible, and not quitting until the task is complete.

I look into the tree and I see its rotting sinews still strong with sap and wet with the morning dew. To chop it down is to set it free. I want so dearly to hear that satiating crack. A limb splitting in two. But I go against the grain and all I hear is the dull thud of this impressive mass of earth pushing back at me.

I remove my shirt sweat stinging my eyes. My arms feeling limp in between each swing. All the strength of my spirit being grounded with each bounce of the ax back into the valley floor. I begin to doubt this meditation and the possibility of me ever completing it.

I have to remind myself that man once was capable of splitting logs this way. Still some men exist who don’t need a chainsaw to have their fill. In the olden days men built log cabins out of trees much thicker than this one. They conquered the wilderness with only a few handmade tools in their possession. They walked into a sea of redwoods and one trunk at a time they built their home.

I am not one of those men, but if I can I will have my moment as one.

More people arrive for the party. Some perceive me with curiosity and ask if they can also take a swing. Others hardly even notice my grunts in the dark in this community of mountainfolk who find these ways the day to day. I laugh quietly at my outward display of masculinity. But it is so much more than that. I want to know what this body is capable of. I want to know if man can still build himself a home. I want to know if I am truly God the maker of my universe. There is only one way to know all of these things and it sits humbly before me.

The log rolls back and forth on the flat patch of grass. I grab a large rock and try kicking the log over top of it. I have someone stand on one end while I jump on the other. The log stays firm and I go off into the woods to find more rocks.

The fire grows behind me. The lumber I pulled from the forest earlier goes up as warm sparks into the sky dotting the countless stars above us in ash. The pile dwindles and more branches are pulled from the trees. Insects sing songs and the wood continues to crackle over the casual conversations that are all around.

Two hours pass and then three and I am still chopping this tree. I’ve gotten it to a point where the rivet goes all around it. I’ve approached its circumference from all sides. Still the tree braces for impact each time and throws itself back at me. It is a test and I will not be broken before the tree.

There is music that comes out of the campfire. Several travelers hitched a train from New Orleans to arrive here. They brought a full string orchestra on their backs in the form of homemade guitars and percussion. A few partakers dance merrily. Others request songs that no one knows and so they come up with their own.

I fly at the log with all my weight and passion. I want to be free from this task. I too want to be social and merry. I want to be done with it and have my own worth proven. I want to feel the sound of it and all the weight of my past up until this moment snap in half before me. It feels close now. It feels right. It feels like only a few more strikes and I will have it.

I take a break. My mind is beaten more than my body. There is a keg in the woods so I take a beer and feel it relieve me. I talk to a girl. I talk to some travelers. I talk to my friends. I stand by the fire and nod. After I’ve had time to reflect, I return to my duty of chopping the fallen tree.

One two three four five. There are still several more strikes to go. I pick the log up over my head and throw it down on the ground as hard as I can. I kick at it. I claw at it. I yell at it. It looks so ready to break and be set free. I stand there and look at it. Examine it. Understand it. I run my fingers along it. Feel it as if it were a part of me. I diagnose its fracturing point and place it back onto the pile of rocks I have built to hold it. I wipe the sweat from my brow and with one final gasp I drive the ax right through its heart breaking it in two.

The fire burns all night with my log continuously feeding the much smaller branches around it. At first it does not catch, but when it does its whole body glows. I smile at it and it laps warmth back at me. After most people leave, it is still going. The few of us who remain decide to sleep there close by staying warm by its light. Taking in the stars, the smoke, the silence we lay there all evening. I hear a couple fucking off in the distance. This moment is joyful. The fire dances all around us like firecrackers going off in the night. I sleep soundly. I sleep deeply. I dream I am who I am and nothing more nothing less. In the morning when I wake up the log is still smoldering and my inner fire is dancing as if reborn.

Meditation on Chopping Wood