The ‘Zen’ of Splitting Firewood

‘Oomph, crack, thump, thump’….’Oomph, crack, thump, thump’; to anyone familiar with splitting wood this sequence is all too familiar and often evokes within me serene and pleasant memories. There’s nothing quite like aligning a piece of firewood on one’s splitting block, taking ‘the stance’, grunting as one swings the 12 pound axe in an arc which drives the head into the wood and hopefully results in two pieces, now ready for the stove, falling to the ground on each side of the splitting stand.

While my experience with splitting wood has been very limited I’m getting a lot more since I had a cord of seasoned birch dropped in my driveway a week back. I previously split wood a few times while camping in Michigan and always when staying at ‘Timbers’; that magical cabin in Kachemak Bay State Park. It was expected that as one used some of the previously split wood to warm the cabin in the evening during the day one would replace the wood used by splitting the ample store of firewood on site. I quickly learned I loved the sequence of splitting the logs and especially enjoyed how it loosened up my back. Indeed, I came to notice as I worked away I entered into almost a trance-like state in which all that existed was me, my axe, the splitting stand and the firewood. There was a certain ‘perfection’ that came from the repeated motions not to mention the satisfaction at seeing the wood pile grow in height and length.

I suspect part of the joy, at least for me, is based upon the feeling of accomplishment; of knowing that my immediate work is responsible for transforming logs into firewood suitable for building a fire to use in cooking and/or warming. Perhaps it is the simple, basic nature of the activity that fuels my joy? Seeing the larger logs reduced to smaller and more manageable pieces definitely produces a feeling of being productive but there’s more. I feel an almost ‘genetic memory’ regarding the activity which is entwined with the pleasure of knowing the split wood will soon find a survival use. In the past such labor was indeed a necessity if one was to survive in the less complicated and developed world. Perhaps this is also what feeds my love for the activity..?

All told I find the very actions of splitting firewood to be a balm for my soul; there’s something just so positive about the physical activity and especially the trance-like state I slide into while doing so. And I’ve discovered I must maintain the aforementioned ‘trance-like state’ because if I actively think about where I will place the axe blade I invariably miss. As I continue my struggles to drop weight such exercise is a God Send which is why I decided to have the wood delivered not split and to a place which requires me to load it into my wheel barrow, or just roll the really huge pieces, and haul the wood to my chopping block. This allows me to get my legs and lower back into the activity; the actual splitting of the wood engages my back, shoulders and arms. I will work at this process until I really break a sweat; at this point I’ve learned it is best to take a break. If I’m feeling really energetic I will return to the work after relaxing a bit. Given my slow pace and unperfected technique there is sure to be more firewood to split.

Reflecting upon the entire ‘ritual’ of splitting firewood I see a fairly simple routine albeit one that requires effort and at least a modicum of technique. It produces the firewood I can then place in my stove that provides welcome heat when it is cold as well as produces that ‘oh so pleasant’ view of the flames licking at the wood in the firebox and that delicious odor of burning wood. As someone who is physically lazy by nature this is one effort I do enjoy and this is good because my property currently has a lot of downed birch and spruce trees which I plan to eventually harvest for firewood. And while such work is indeed physical labor it is also the kind of physical labor I truly enjoy. This adds to my enjoyment of my ‘new’ lifestyle here in semi-rural south central Alaska and does offer me a means to continue to work on strengthening my body while generating firewood for my eventual use. If that isn’t a ‘win-win’ situation I do not what is; just another thing to add to the list of most enjoyable benefits of living up here in ‘The Great Land’!

Anana by the wood pile

Anana by the wood pile

Long shadows, Qanuk and firewood

Long shadows, Qanuk and firewood

Anana by the chopping block

Anana by the chopping block