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October 17, 2008

Mr. Bean meets Paul Bunyan's Sister

When I first layed eyes on the inside of the cottage and saw that it had a wood burning stove, the first words out of my mouth were "How romantic" to which the male half of the couple I rent from let out a cynical little grunt as if to say, "You'll be a little wood whore soon enough." A slave to its endless appetite for wood.

Now, I get it. First of all, take someone from the city who has never handled an axe. Yes, it's a wee little lady axe. That's what I call it. I was informed that actually its official title is a hatchet. I just thought, oh, how thoughtful, it's a female version of an axe.

First of all, I feel a bit like that guy in Stanley Park who balances those rocks just past the Second Beach pool. That's how difficult it can be at times to find the right balancing point for the wood so that it will, stay, stay, sit, like a puppy I'm trying to train.

Then, when I've got it balanced, I pick up the hatchet, push my hair away from my eyes, wipe my sweaty hands on my coat, spread my legs far apart so as not to endanger striking my thigh in case I miss the wood, and with as much force as possible bring the hatchet down in a way that makes me feel positively capable of violence even though I always stop the car for birds on the road.

The thing is, upper body strength has never been mine. I don't do push-ups. I couldn't do more than a few chin-ups even when I was in shape. So, whacking the hell out of a piece of wood can result in only a minor cut or worse, watching as the big thing topples over, right off the block, a bit the way a golf ball dribbles off the tee when you slice it.

Slowly I am learning the zen of woodcutting. It's not really about how hard you whack it. It's more about where you whack it. It's a bit like when the bat makes contact with the baseball. You know when it's right. And, sure enough, the wood just splits in half when it's right. I suddenly understand the principal behind how those people can karate chop a piece of wood in half. Note. I have no plans to attempt that - yet! I'll stick with the hatchet for now.

I also haven't quite worked up the courage to cut the wood into kindling because this requires being coordinated enough to hold the wood with one hand while the axe hits it and removing the hand at precisely the point when the axe makes contact on tinier and tinier pieces. I resort to just picking up wood pieces from the ground the way homeless people pick up used cigarette butts.

Watching me chop wood is a bit like watching someone preparing for an Olympic Weight lifting competition or getting ready to throw the discus. I eye the pieces in the cord of wood stacked neatly against the house. I look for knots and avoid those. I choose just the right piece. I walk around the wood deciding which way to hit it. You'd think I was Tiger Woods getting ready for the first drive. I look at the wood. I look up at the trees. I make sure I'm standing properly. I take a moment. Then,in great seriousness, I lift the hatchet over my head.

There's something really empowering about chopping wood. When you've chopped wood, you can look at your box full of wood and think, today, I actually did something. I chopped wood. I started a fire. I made something happen. I warmed up the house so I can now unwrap myself and I begin to unwrap my layers like I'm unwrapping a turban except I start at my neck, unwinding the scarf that has been wound not two but three times and then I unwrap myself from the colourful shawl that I bought in the market at San Cristobal De Las Casas and finally slipping off the wool socks that I have slept in every night since I got here. I can almost picture the beach in Kona.

Too bad nobody can see me in my own little personal installment of Harrowsmith.

This afternoon I thought, how sad (although safer) that there are no witnesses to this little milestone because this would make a really good You Tube video:a comedy. Something like Mr. Bean meets Paul Bunyan's sister.

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