I never saw myself as being much like Abraham Lincoln, who I admire, but just a few days after seeing the movie about him, I see we have a connection. Yesterday I started splitting firewood, something I could not have imagined doing even 24 hours ago. We bought a load of wood last September, but much of it is too large for the wood stove we are now using. I was asking around for a source of smaller logs when my friend and neighbor Jack McMillan came by. I had called him to ask if he knew any firewood suppliers, and he seemed astonished, and said no, but there was plenty of wood out in the fields behind my house. Later in the after, he drove his big pickup into the driveway, nodded at me.
He took an axe out of his truck and quickly and expertly chopped up a few logs.
It was a testosterone scene, I think, because Strut the rooster immediately started prancing around behind us and crowing (he never does that around me) and Simon started braying as Jack instructed me in cutting wood. I hope you aren’t thinking I’m going to do that?, I asked Jack incredulously, nobody would ever let me near an axe, I’d chop my foot off. Jack just shrugged, told me how to do it and then got in his truck and left. I was laughing to myself about it, this is definitely something that is beyond me, something I would hire somebody to do for sure.
Then I started thinking about the familiar scripts than run our lives, that shape us, about the ruts we fall into, the ways we have of looking at ourselves. I got Red into the car and drove to the hardware store and found Chad, my Ace Hardware adviser and I asked him if he had any axes to sell me. Chad is very courteous and instinctively helpful. His eyes widened. “Does your wife know you’re buying an axe?” he asked, perhaps imagining an enraged Maria storming the store on the way back from the hospital. “No,” I said. “She doesn’t, but I’ll be careful.” He showed me the different sizes and models – wood, fiberglass – and encouraged me to handle them to see what is comfortable. Chad has become an important figure in my life. They gave Red a biscuit.
I drove back to the farm and took out three logs and started splitting. Red ran off and hid on the porch. He couldn’t bear to look. Simon watched but did not bray. Strut was nowhere to be seen. Maria came out of her studio, gave me a hard look and started laughing. Well, she said, watching me carefully. Good for you. Then she left me to it.
Two split right away, the next one balked. It was hard. But I got enough smaller pieces to start a fire right away. I will be back at it today, trying to remember what Jack taught me and how easy he made it seem. My back hurts. Jack was born up here and when he needs firewood he doesn’t call somebody with a truck – he goes out into his woods and chops it. He wants me to go with him. Chopping wood is not something I ever imagined I would do, nor does anyone I know imagine me doing it, I’m sure.
It is very important, I see, to reexamine the old stories of my life. Old stories can get you stuck, keep you from growing or learning or changing. Every day I do things I never did before – that is the ethic of our new home – and every one of them is a step forward towards a self-determined life, an affirmation, a reminder to cast away the stories we have given ourselves – or other people have given us – and have the strength and openness to write some new ones. There is always help if you need it. I can’t wait to chop some wood today, and thanks to you, Jack. You, too Abe.