January 16, 2000
When I am confounded and afraid, that is, when I have trouble figuring out what to do next in a critical situation, I go to my woodpile, grab an axe, and chop firewood. When I finish chopping, I almost always understand what must be done, or at least I am well on the road to gaining an understanding.
Sounds Delphic or religious, doesn’t it? But it’s not. It’s my personal way of solving immense problems. It suits me perfectly, and it is probably not very different than a thousand ways other people have of solving their problems.
I’ve been chopping firewood on a regular basis for about 15 years, ever since I relocated permanently to the country and began heating my home with wood. I chop with determination and purpose. It is not exercise I’m after, although I appreciate the upper body strength it gives me, but the mental calm and organization that will lead to solutions.
I publish Backwoods Home Magazine , and like other small businessmen I have decisions to make and tasks to undertake that would worry a John Wayne. On many occasions I get overly concerned because it seems the magazine is always treading on new ground since most other magazines don’t appear to understand what they are doing at all. That’s probably why magazines have a failure rate of better than 90%. Now that worries me.
I approach chopping firewood seriously. It is a necessary task that must be done correctly, especially when I have been lax and allowed the house to get low on kindling and readily available wood for our two woodstoves. That’s when this solution remedy is at its best–when the wood must be chopped to meet the family’s need for warmth.
But I am a competent wood chopper, able to size up even the gnarliest piece of wood and strike the single precise blow that will split it. My favorite axe is the fireman’s axe. It is heavy and powerful. A piece of wood seldom requires a second blow. When chopping the kindling that will make starting a morning fire easy, I am fast, efficient, and safe, often utilizing my full sized but light-headed kindling axe with one-handed skill and dexterity. I am, as they say, in my element with an axe and firewood. It is a task I do as well as anyone.
And that is all important. It is because I am superbly competent as a firewood splitter that I am always successful. Even the rains we have here in the Northwest do not deter me; I work through them, taking shelter under the big trees by my house. If I were not superbly competent at this task, it would be of no use to me as a problem solver.
While chopping wood I organize my thoughts and relax. I can feel the mental fatigue lessen with each fall of the axe. It’s like magic. I chop and the sense of being overwhelmed falls away like a big oak.
When I am done, usually after at least an hour, my body feels more upright in spite of aching back muscles, and my mind is like clear crystal in spite of the sweat and dirt in my hair. I am full of ideas and energy–and solutions.
When I am finished at my woodpile, I have done much more than resupply my house with firewood. I have restored my confidence in myself by successfully completing a task I am perfectly suited to do. It is a confidence that would scare the hell out of an adversary. Even my wife notices it when I come in, and gives me a knowing smile.
I wasn’t aware of how much I relied on my woodpile until today. I had fallen about four hours behind in cutting kindling and keeping the wood easily accessible to the woodstoves, so I spent today catching up. I chopped six boxes of old growth fir kindling, several dozen big gnarly chunks of wood that required all the muscle I could put into the axe, and restacked the big piles of wood at either end of the house so they were more convenient to retrieve for the woodstoves. When I was done I was exhausted, but exhilarated.
Today’s axe-wielding session came on the heels of a week’s worth of grappling with two big new business ventures–launching Backwoods Home Magazine on the Internet and grappling with the technical difficulties and sheer work of putting the magazine’s first 10 years worth of issues on CDROM. I now have a clear grasp of how to do both.
I wonder how many of you use a similar device to find solutions. I notice from our online survey that 32% of the people who responded are self-employed. That’s a phenomenal statistic, but it makes sense when you consider that the subject of the magazine is self-reliance. And 98% of you rate self-reliance as the thing you most want to read about. That means most of you look to yourself for solutions, just like me. Where do you find your peace of mind and solitude away from the fray, your seclusion from everybody and everything while you try and set your mind straight?
What I like best about my woodpile is that it is always there, just outside my door. It’s a storehouse of wisdom and knowledge always willing to let me tap it. It’s a great feeling to have it.