Creating A Whole New Experience
After we had the trees on our Anderson Valley property limbed up several weeks ago, a neighbor cut the downed branches into firewood for us. Since Stephen was busy with another project this weekend, it fell to me to stack the cut wood, a task I wasn’t looking forward to: my back would hurt, I saw no possibility of fulfillment in spending an hour placing one portion of cut branch next to and then on top of another, and I had a book I was anxious to return to.
I put off the chore for two days, keeping busy with anything else I could think of. But this morning, I couldn’t procrastinate any longer. I had made a commitment. I dragged myself outside, and began, bending to pluck up four or five pieces of cut wood, which I cradled in my left arm, grabbing one more piece in my right hand, then walking over to the two pipes Stephen had laid to keep the wood off the ground, bending down and laying the pieces side by side. After each round, I glanced at my watch, hoping that it would soon be lunch time and I could take a break.
Grumpier with each load, I suddenly realized I had an option: Instead of feeling bored and impatient, I could give myself over to what I was doing, focusing my mind and senses on what was right in front of me.
My first reaction was to appreciate the steps Stephen long ago put into the hillside I had to walk up and down to gather and deposit the wood. Four railroad ties wedged into the slope eased my journey from the large circle of cut wood a short ways from the bottom step, to the space under two redwoods Stephen had created for the stacked wood at the top. The steps have been in place for years, but as they lead to the water tanks, which are Stephen’s territory, I’ve had few occasions to use them.
Today, however, I realized how much more difficult it would be trudging up and down the small hill, armload after armload. Thanks to the steps, I could solidly plant my feet, never slipping on the damp ground. I remained surefooted the entire time I worked, all the while feeling my connection to the earth beneath me.
While initially, I hardly glanced at the wood I was carrying, now I took in the polished reddish bark of the madrone, the grayish-white bark of the tan oak, and the deeply striated bark of the redwoods. I also took pleasure in noticing the two distinct varieties of lichen on our trees: clots of loosely attached leaf-like lichen, as well as sheets of pebbly lichen, the color ranging from deep green to gray.
By this time, I had filled in an entire row–about ten linear feet –of cut wood and was beginning my second tier. I noticed that each time I lay a piece of wood down, it nestled its way among those on either side, finding its place in the growing community of cut wood. For the next few minutes, I focused on the way the wood settled comfortably, filling in any gaps and evening up the tier.
The next time I glanced at my watch, 20 minutes had passed, but instead of looking forward to stopping for lunch, I was now energized, feeling positive about how much I was accomplishing. Time had become light and airy, the minutes floating by on the gentle breeze that was cooling me off.
As I was gathering wood for another trip, an area of miniscule, daisy-like white flowers caught my eye, each blossom not more than a quarter-inch large. The flowers were borne on a delicate vine, with tiny oval leaves. I’ve always loved wildflowers, but had never noticed these. Of course not; they are usually underfoot.
When I’d stacked about half the wood, I realized that my bending over to pick up and place the wood could double as squat practice, and perhaps prevent some of the inevitable back pain I’d anticipated. For the rest of the time, I went down and up with my back straight, knees out to the sides, as I gathered and deposited wood. Now, in addition to an accomplishment and a gift, stacking the wood became a form of exercise—all because I had caught myself and shifted my perspective.
Once the wood was all stacked and I had sat down to eat lunch, I realized that I had Covid 19 to thank for my rich experience. The pandemic has offered me the opportunity to slow down and appreciate so much that I had no time to appreciate before.