Today is finally a classic prairie winter day: fiercely cold and blindingly bright with sun and snow. It reminded me of a day I journaled last winter. I'll post it now and go outside to cut wood, by hand - a discipline I practiced better last year, and have let slide a bit....
Dec. 1, 2010
Sometimes this time of year is characterized as a time of darkness. It is true, the sun is up so briefly now, for those who must leave their homes to work at jobs that keep them inside, people drive out in darkness and return in darkness.
But I am blessed to walk out my door in the middle of the day into a world suffused with light. O God, I'm thankful for that light. The light these days is brief, but it is total. Every surface is white with snow now, and the light reflects and reflects and reflects. It is like I have stepped into that world that fascinated me so endlessly in the bathroom mirror of my childhood home, the world where the mirrors faced each other; the world that drew me out into infinity, becoming a smaller and smaller and smaller version of myself, lost in space and light.
Except this world is too crisp and cold, its impact on my body too immediate to become lost in abstraction. I went out to cut wood. We are eating through our woodpile very quickly all of a sudden.
I have been cutting with a handsaw lengths of wood that I removed with a chainsaw from the woods in sections just short enough that I could carry. The chain saw is sitting in the wood shed now. I could use it, and in an afternoon cut up all the stove length pieces I might need for the rest of this winter. The logic of industrial efficiency would find my handsawing insane. But going outside and cutting wood in the afternoon sunshine is seems to help keep me sane these days. My body wants something to do outside. My muscles want the exercise, my brain wants the oxygen and my soul craves the light that is in this silly, industrially superfluous activity.
A while back, the girls and I were cutting wood together and we heard the "keeee, tweee, keeee, kek kek kek" of an eagle coming from the river. We put down our saws and hatchets to go investigate, and got a sight of a big immature eagle flying round the bend, calling to an adult sitting in a tree a little further down. It was one of those moments of gratitude and wonder that confirmed in us what we came here for. What if I had been using the chainsaw? The girls would have never been with me, because of the danger, and none of us would have heard any eagles, because of the noise.
I think its fair to say that we are at the tail end of the industrial age. The age of the machine brought enormous opportunity for leisure, culture and knowledge. High technology and cheap energy offered a bevy of choices and "lifestyles" unimaginable to previous generations. It also taxed the world beyond its carrying capacity. We still have a lot of choices, although who knows for how long.
I am finding meaning, and joy, and contentment in certain specific renunciations, like cutting stovewood without a chainsaw. I'd like to think that it could remain possible in future to still use a gas-powered chainsaw to fell trees. I'd like to continue to be able to use labour-saving technologies enough to still have time for writing, for visiting and enjoying friends, or for having energy and resources to give beyond myself. But I want to become discriminating about using any machine that removes from my life activities that make me work my muscles, be on the land, or cooperate with friends.