In today's blog, Douglas reflects on the autumn ritual of preparing the woodpile.
The smell of chopped wood hangs heavy in the cool afternoon air. Distant trees, having already shed their leaves, now reach for the grey sky without them. Every “kerplunk” declares its contribution to the woodpile. With each landing, the silence of the surrounding fields is momentarily broken and then restored.
You stand for a moment watching the smoke rise from a distant neighbour’s chimney. Closer at hand, the smell of wood intermingles with those of damp earth and leaves already trodden underfoot. You can almost touch the essence of the earth in the air. It starts to rain.
Authenticity and Rugged Beauty
There is comfort in these elements of an autumn ritual: the smell of wood and earth, the smoke from a chimney, the coarseness of the texture of the logs themselves, the solitude of the woodpile. Not that it has to be solitary work. There is, to be sure, pleasure in kinship, even if it is just the occasional wave of a loved one through a distant window. Yet, since the nature of the work does not occupy the mind entirely, the solitude allows ample room for reflection.
The beauty of autumn rain, barren trees and roughly hewn wood is there, if we but allow our heart to see it.
It is a moment of peace. The mind is eased by the simplicity of the wooden log. It is the simple touch of uneven wood that tells the hand that this is real and solid and good. The mind finds pleasure in the simple hard work of giving order to what is natural. The beauty of autumn rain, barren trees and roughly hewn wood is there, if we but allow our heart to see it.
Work with your hands...
Still, the rough and irregular texture of the logs declare not only their beauty, but also their authenticity. There is no mistaking what they are. This is, perhaps, particularly true when the grip of the hand is not quite large enough to grasp the log fully and easily, and splinters find their way beneath the skin. You could, of course, have recourse to leathered gloves, but at the beginning you want nothing to intervene between your hand and the texture of the wood.
You bend down to pick up a log and immediately feel the irregularity that invites your fingers to play with the bark. You run them down lengthwise, following the edge between an upper crest and its adjacent, lower, furrow. Your fingers eventually trail off of the crest that maintains the line, the division, the issue, which today weighs upon your mind. It tries to break through your reverie. You push it back, wanting only the wood and the lightly falling rain.
The work of your two hands brings order to the scattered pieces of an erstwhile giant. It is a labour of love that we undertake each autumn, knowing that warmth and light will follow.
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WHO IS DOUGLAS ALLEN?
Douglas Allen is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Toronto. His historical studies are of late medieval and Renaissance Europe. He is interested in using the lens of identity to explore and understand history, human motivation and action. Douglas is also a writer who is currently writing a novel set in the City of Winnipeg in the 1980’s, which explores the nature of indigenous and non-indigenous relations.