Meditation on Chopping Wood

from the forthcoming Dream Dialectic, The Little Death

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

Life at Walden Pond

from the forthcoming Dream Dialectic, The Little Death

The water beckons a challenge to live one’s life. Its cold runs to new depth creating icy patches upon my toes as they dip further into the darkness gesturing towards a sandy bottom covered in the black of night. Thoreau still occupies this space. His poetry flows with the ripples of wind on water. Waves eternal. Words everywhere and everything. Rise up young youth. Your summer swim spot is a place for transcendence. Bathe here and feel your soul purified.

I dream I am alone as I swim across from shore to shore. Each stroke pushing me further out into the open and farther from my friends talking deeply barely noticing my absence. Fear creeps up my neck into my conscious mind as I realize how far I have gone and how far I still have yet to go. Treading water I take a long look around me. Lifeguards watching children splash starbursts into the sky. Families camping underneath the friendly shade of pines. Lovers groping bodies enchanted by the reflection of their kiss in the cool pool. Summer wanderers. Avid vacationers. Dream makers.

My body drags underneath a passing wave. Around me the sun spirals into bands of light broken by the dark sheen of the lake top over my head. Submerged breath is cut short and the mind grows cold. Panic fear absolved. The birds no longer chirp where the body lays. Silence falls except for the beating of my own heart at the back of my eardrum. And the mind turns over a new chord. A oneness with both body and soul. The water speaks to me:

Drink deep from the river of your own being and rise up anew. Become the person you tempted yourself to be. All the strength in the world is yours. It only needs a controlled breath and from there the vision becomes clearer.

I resurface and notice not one but two swimmers gradually make their way past me. Their intersection and crossover like two planes in the sky. Trails of motion laying out across the lake as they drift forward in time.

And all around them even greater swimmers taking a stroll through the lake deep. Merry pranksters on afternoon jaunts cooling off from the summer sun. Paths each unique in rhythm. Beaten roads as flexible as the liquid that they were born in. A great network of wonderers lucidly living lakeside.

I take a breath sucking in the warm sun’s heat. The fear of drowning subsiding. The body making the right motion of fingertips cupped into paddles pushing water across the side and out underneath the feet kicking brilliantly like something alive all inside. The mind masters the body and the body masters the earth.

On the opposing shore there is a moment of triumph. Thoreau stands there admiring another walker of the way. His statuette hand outstretched in an expression of open embrace. He takes note of all the fellow lovers of nature who take day trips to his homeland. Natives of Concord and Boston artists and writers lifers and dreamers all drinking deep and breathing big. His smile is in the peace of the land. No one tripping over his grave anytime soon. As his body is now a vast valley of life.

Life at Walden Pond