Suburban Butch Dad Report: Chop Wood…

I’m a doer, a fixer, a problem solver.  That’s great when the problems confronting me are solvable, but it’s a source of stress otherwise.

For example, I’m ‘between gigs’ aka unemployed.  It’s not a problem that I can solve quickly, it’s more of a ‘do stuff and wait’ situation.  That leaves me feeling a bit stressed.

The best thing for me when I’m stressed is to do something physical:  organize the garage, pull weeds, and, recently, chop wood.  Staying busy with projects around the house keeps me from becoming a giant bucket of stress and has positive results.  A couple of days ago we had 3 Port Orford cedars taken down on our fence line giving us a pile of wood to split. (the Port Orfords are not native to this area, were planted 50 or so years ago as ornamentals and have been dying in succession over the past several years.  The Western Red Cedars on our property are natives and are thriving).

This is wonderful, dry wood, seasoned as it stood dying for over a year.  I’ve been going out for a couple of hours on most days to split it and finding the work to be very satisfying.  First, there’s the satisfaction of working my muscles and feeling strong and capable.  Then there’s the satisfaction of working hard at something and seeing tangible results — something missing so far in my job search.  Even though my shoulders and hands are sore from the unaccustomed hard labor, it feels good and I find myself wanting to work longer than I should.

One recent morning, I went out to greet the day with a bit of well earned sweat (plus a conversation with Roxy, which is always a great way to start the day).  Later my daughter joined me.  She and I had a great time working together yesterday and I showed her the fundamentals of wood splitting and safety.  She’s too short and not quite strong enough to swing the axe safely — though I gave her the chance —  but she can work the splitting maul very well.  I set the wedge for her and she pounds on it, it’s hard work for her but she was so excited when she split a couple of pieces on her own.  Her main job was to select chunks for me to split, set them up on my ‘chopping block’ — an oddly shaped large hunk of tree — and toss the split pieces onto our pile.  It was fun to hang out with her, and to show her a difference side of her mom/dad.  After I set up a splitting wedge – she was seriously impressed by my ability to split pieces with a single well placed stroke of the axe.

Working through my stress physically is good for my body and mind.  It’s grounding in a way that pushing electrons around is not.  Splitting wood is immediately productive and satisfying and it gives my brain a time out.  If I sit in front of the computer, desperate to ‘add value’ all the time, my brain will eat itself.  If I give myself a break of physical labor, my mind can ramble about unhampered by my conscious thoughts, which are focused on not chopping off a leg.  The results are new connections, new inspirations and new energy for the challenges I face.

So this is my strategy, work hard at securing my next assignment, work to increase and hone my software skills and take breaks for chopping wood, or tickling a baby, or sitting in the sun.  As the Zen proverb says:  Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

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