6 February

Me And The Railsplitter. Jon, Jack, Honest Abe.

by Jon Katz
Splitting Wood
Splitting Wood

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.

6 February

Wood Stoves And The Road To Health

by Jon Katz
The Road To Health
The Road To Health

It has been more than four years since I left the conventional health care system and set out to find my own road to health, to control my body and what goes into it, and begin the long and sensitive process of controlling the end of my life. I am on no medications, and take few tests regularly.  When I think of all the medications I was on that doctors told me to take, I shiver. My medicine cabinet used to be crammed with pills, my body crammed with side effects. My cabinet is orderly now, it has some vitamins and band-aids now, and a jar of Almond oil.

This process has been and sometimes remains frightening, as I am assured daily and continuously through a variety of media  – e-mail, social media, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals and medical instiitutions, doctors, friends – that my road to heath will lead to a heart attack, stroke or other debilitating illness. Their warnings have often rung in my ears, embedded themselves in my consciousness, disrupted my sleep. In America, the medical community can’t wait to talk to you when you enter the sixties. I am hunted down with medical information. It even comes through the phone, which rarely rings any more in the cell phone era. Everywhere I go, I find that I am the only person anywhere near my age who is not on a lot of prescription drugs. You can look at this two ways, a friend told me. You are a prophet or you are mad. I have never thought of myself as a prophet.

But still, my health care has evolved and deepened. I see a chiropractor, an MD naturopath, meditation, daily walks and many chores, a massage therapist. I’d include a shaman in that and add that having love in my life is perhaps the healthiest thing I have ever done. I understand there will almost surely be medical issues that required sophisticated diagnoses and technology, and when the time comes, I will go there, of course. Not yet. I have stayed healthy, active and strong. I am proud of myself and I work hard to take care of myself in a variety of ways. I cherish learning about my own body, understanding that food can be one of the most powerful medicines of all.

I want to say I have no arguments with doctors – there are many wonderful ones – or the medicine they practice,which helps many people. People ought to do whatever they want and need to do for themselves. I am not urging anyone else to do a thing, only sharing my own choices. Whenever I wrote about this, there are dozen messages reminding everyone that the conventional health care system does a lot of good things and that people should see doctors. It’s like being reminded that some animals are mistreated. We know it. We need to be reminded that some animals are not, just as we need to be reminded some of us can keep ourselves healthy. I don’t think anybody needs to be reminded of the existence of conventional medicine and medications and procedures. I am reminded of it all day.

An issue cropped up recently. Our new home is smaller than the first Bedlam Farm, and we are heating it most of the day with a wood stove or fireplace. The weather has been very cold and very dry. I love the wood stove but I also find it generates very dry heat. This had led to some dryness. I woke up at night with  dryness which was new and  uncomfortable for me and affected my sleep and breathing. When I wake up at night, it is usually not to good and rosy thoughts and this sinus issue alarmed me, as I had not experienced it before. As often happens in the night, I decided I better get to a doctor. The old way, the old habit, the old fear.

This is it, I thought in my head, the reckoning that will inevitably strike me down for daring to break loose from what is to me a nightmarish system of fear, greed and disconnection. And money.  Mary Shelley would recognize this system, technology and corporate greed run amok, human values and feelings repeatedly brushed aside for efficiency, the mindless use of science and profit.

I called my local health care provider, the doctors I last saw, the ones who assured me of the terrible fate that would befall me if I didn’t take all kinds of pills for all kinds of things I now treat differently.  I could get an appointment in several weeks and it was likely I would need some tests and perhaps a referral. I called my naturopath, who is also an M.D. He returned my call in minutes. There were a number of natural antiobiotic remedies I would try. This was no big deal, he said, it was quite commonplace around wood stoves. I told him I already had a humidifier and a warm air nose inhaler. Great, he said. I went to a local health food store and got holistic treatments he recommended. Oh yes, said the health care store owner. We sell those all day this time of year. Wood stove?

My relief was almost instant. There are still some issues with dryness, but I see that this is very common around wood stoves and I can handle it myself without entering the other system.

I am always struck by the fact that whenever I sent to see a regular physician, I felt sick and unhealthy, my head filled with alarms and thoughts of things I was told might be. Whenever I see a holistic practitioner, I feel healthy. Of course, it is never about money with them, but the joy of health and the wonder of true healing and health. I am never afraid to talk to them, to be honest with them. I am so surprised that I have been managing my health so well. And I have worked hard at it. It feels better to me, but it is not simple or easy, not just a matter of taking some herbs and meditating.  It takes a lot of work and thought.

Even after some years,  and scores of similiar experiences, this all still surprises me. The echoes of the other way still bounce around in my head. It is so difficult to maintain belief when the universe is lined up to tell you that you are wrong and short-sighted. I am not yet always strong in my truth, not yet owning my decisions. I tend to assume I was wrong rather than  that I was right. I am working on that. For me, there is another path to health and it has worked, and I am coming to see it will work for me for a very long time, hopefully all the way. This is about health, for sure but also self-determination. I do have a choice. There are different paths to health. I can control the way I live.  I am so grateful for mine.

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