Now that the weather is starting to cool down, I decided to start a project this weekend. One that Mother Nature created for me six weeks ago, when high winds from Hurricane Isaias reached up from the Caribbean to shear off the top half of our tree.
To borrow from the old aphorism about lemons and lemonade …
When life hands you wood, you make firewood.
The tree removal people had done part of this work for us a few days after the storm, chainsawing huge branches into manageable chunks and stacking them neatly in our backyard. All that remained was to transform these big pieces into smaller, burnable ones.
They make machines for this, of course. Gas-powered splitters. And I may end up renting one at some point. But for now, after months of slacking off “because of the pandemic,” I can use the exercise.
So armed with my trusty maul (a fancy word for what you get when you marry an ax with a sledgehammer), last Saturday I set about trolling the pile of wood to find some medium-sized chunks. Nothing wider than maybe six inches. I hadn’t split wood in a while and didn’t want to overdo it.
I stood the first chunk up on its end, took a step back, lifted the heavy maul up over my head, brought it down … and came so close to missing the piece of wood that I sent it careening several feet away.
Okay, so I’m not a lumberjack.
Undaunted, after a few more swings, my aim improved, and I had successfully turned the chunk into four pieces that would burn nicely in our fireplace. Then I did the same with another about the same size.
Feeling bolder now, I decided to try my hand at a much larger piece. This one was twice the width of the other, easily a foot across, and probably weighed a good sixty or seventy pounds. As before, I brought the maul up … and then down. It made a terribly satisfying “thunk” sound as it hit the chunk of wood, but didn’t seem to do much damage. So I did it again. And again. Five times. Ten times. Until I eventually lost count.
What I noticed with each swing, though, was that I was growing more confident with the maul itself. Lifting it higher over my head each time. Letting the weight of it do most of the work until it got close to the chunk of wood, then planting my feet, putting some back into the swing, and nailing the log dead center every single time. And then somewhere around twenty or maybe two dozen swings, as I began to feel a bit winded, it happened. The huge chunk of wood split cleanly down the middle, each half jumping away from the maul to either side.
It doesn’t get much more satisfying than that.
When I was a kid, one of my chores was to split the kindling. Which meant taking the pile of scrap lumber my stepfather had gotten from who knows where and using a small hatchet to divide and divide each piece of wood into pieces small enough to start a fire with. Once I had filled up a peach basket, I was done for the day.
Being a kid, of course, who’d rather be inside watching TV or reading a comic book, I resented this chore at the time. But I would try to make it fun anyway, by seeing if could split the pieces of wood with one swing. Or with my left hand. Or with my eyes closed. It made the time go by faster, especially on cold winter days. The memory of this flashed back to me as I looked at the two halves of that log the other day. How far I’d come. Splitting things much bigger than scrap wood. And not as a chore by but choice.
And of course, because it’s where my mind always goes, I tried to find the metaphor in it. Because I suspected there was a reason why it had felt so wonderfully satisfying to me.
After all, some logs in life are bigger and harder to split than others.
It’s been a few years now since I started trying to grow and refine my freelance business. First by focusing on web development. (WHACK!) Then on copywriting. (WHACK!) Then my current focus as a storytelling guide for small businesses. (WHACK!) To which this year I added the creation of a personal development workshop. (WHACK!)
And to be honest, I haven’t yet quite felt the rush that I did when those two halves of a log jumped away from each other on Saturday.
But I’m confident it will happen. Because I’ve come close a few times. Heard the wood creak a bit under the weight of a blow, and thought, “Maybe with the next swing …”
The key to success for any of us, of course, is persistence. Putting in the work. Refining our form. Keeping our actual eye on the log while our mind’s eye sees it splitting in half. And above all, embracing the work not as a chore, but as a choice.
If we can do this, if we can trust the process, then the reward is well worth it in the end. Whether that reward is a stack of firewood that will keep us warm on a cold winter night … or a business we can be proud of.
When life hands us wood, we make firewood. One swing, one day, one idea, one challenge at a time.