Stacking Cord Wood

I remember watching “The West Wing” during the Bush years, and being bothered that sanity could be found only on TV, while irrational governing was everywhere in real life. But I wasn’t too bothered, because we’d wait for the next election, work like dogs to get out the vote, and we would get these guys out of the White House and get everything back to normal. Because enlightened governing was coming back soon enough, I didn’t think extraordinary measures were necessary.

It wasn’t until I was laid off for over 99 weeks and watched as any further unemployment insurance get traded away for tax cuts, got hired a couple of times but was quickly jettisoned when younger or more qualified candidates walked in the door, and realized that age 63, I am no longer employable. I am no longer going to have an income. Something had radically changed in the boss-employee relationship and it felt predatory. I was really shocked, having always been an ideal employee with an over-developed work ethic and having always worked with people just as good and just as qualified. How could this be happening to all of us? I started to analyze how I could possibly become self-employed.

So, I finally grasped that it was time to reassess, regroup, and retool. But what tools did I have for life with no money? What could I barter? I had installed an herb garden, mostly because the groundhog ate any vegetables I planted but left herbs alone. So I discovered a great herbal website with lots of natural homemade remedies and personal products that looked attractive. I decided to volunteer at the Farmers Market, to become acquainted with the enterprise and to scope out what demand I might be able to fill. It turns out an herbal vendor was already booked, but I worked the whole season, if only to feel that my work was worthwhile, relevant, and my work ethic demonstrable.

However, while googling for things natural, homemade, and marketable, I ran across the thoughts and actions of one Ron Hopkins, founder of the Transition Town movement, who tied together three difficult concepts and suggested an about-face. By disengaging from corporations and commodified consumption, by reducing one’s carbon footprint, by embracing local ‘slow money,’ one could start building a new kind of community that would rise out of the ashes of the devastation left by the banksters and oil barons. Finally, a reason to start hoping again, a break from the overwhelming sadness engendered by seeing our Earthly home burning up, and from the loneliness of being laid off from the workforce, where I had found so many friends.

In the Transition Town movement, finding alternatives to fossil fuel heating was not irrational behavior and indeed, with more people in the conversation, I heard of the Finnish wood fueled masonry heater.  I rejoiced in finding a logical means of keeping warm in the winter, a back to the future concept brilliant in it’s efficiency, something that made sense and was comforting in it’s familiarity. After years of exploring solar (too many trees to the south), passive solar (house on the north side of a slope), hydrology (stream out back too slow), wind (too intermittent), I found myself falling in love with the concept of radiant renewable wood heat. And I loved remembering my maternal grandmother who used a big cast iron kitchen wood stove and produced fantastic strawberry shortcake.

I love stacking cord wood. It’s still summertime, the sun is lovely, the breezes are refreshing, and I can pause and sniff various scents wafting from the herb garden. I am taking the physical labor slowly, appreciating each piece of wood and placing it with mindfulness in relation to the others. Wood is stored solar power, a natural battery and a beautiful one at that. I keep contemplating the stacks, so satisfied with my work, and so reassured by the security of stockpiled warmth. Stacking wood makes me happy.

There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies on the gears, and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus. And you’ve got to make it stop.
— Mario Savio

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