Duck! and Gather

What I Just Did

Posted on: September 27, 2006

I just came in after an hour of chopping wood. Pretty boring, right? Like you should care or something.

But perhaps I’m not your typical wood chopper. For example, I did this wood chopping at roughly solar noon, in the full sun, shirtless. I could have worn a shirt, but that would have defeated one of my purposes. That purpose was to allow my body — with its Mediterranean olive skin — to receive maximum UVB sun rays, and thereby maximize my body’s production of Vitamin D. In another month, with the declination of the sun, I’ll need to start supplementing with Vitamin D throughout the winter because my body won’t be able to synthesize it from the sun during these months. This is all part of my self-reliant health practices. Why I think this aids my health is discussed at

Second, I could have just hired a laborer to do the chopping, or, like a neighbor of mine, rented an electric wood splitter, and finished my whole pile in a day or two. But I did neither. Instead, I use a simple maul, and just whack away at the rounds in rhythmic motion. This is a form of exercise that strengthens my upper body and increases my heart rate to around 100 beats per minute, give or take. I believe 100 is near my maximal fat buring heart rate. Again, this is part of my self-reliant health practices.

Third, the wood I am splitting comprises rounds from our own land. Our house is in a clearing in a forest. Part of our land is forest. The forest has lots of trees — e.g. oak, poplar, maple, black walnut, madrone, douglas fir — that fall or lose branches in the winter. Moreover, when we bought the place, the forest was taking the house back over, and we felled some of the trees that were too close to the house. So right now, I have backlog of rounds waiting to be split.

One reason we bought this place was because we love forests — the look of them, their smell, their function as habitat for wildlife, and the peacefulness inside them. And in addition, they’re bloody convenient fuel sources. So one of the key changes we made to the house was to replace the wasteful fireplaces with high efficiency wood inserts. Now, between the two fireplace inserts, we can heat the whole house simply using the firewood from our land that I split with my maul. This is part of my self-reliant energy practices.

Here’s why this boring story is interesting to me. It’s interesting because it runs counter to convention. Convention tells us to wear clothing and sunscreen in the noonday sun in order to avoid skin cancer. Convention doesn’t have a whole lot to say about Vitamin D. Convention tells us that if there’s a quicker, easier, automated way to do something, then do it that way. Convention tells us that if we want exercise, we should pay money to a health club where “no pain, no gain” is the rule. Convention tells us that if we want our homes heated, we should depend on multinational corporations to provide us the fuel.

In splitting this wood today, was I being ultra-liberal or hyper-conservative? Or do these tired labels have any meaning anymore?

2 Responses to "What I Just Did"

That’s really uncanny – it sounds like your current existence is a lot like my experience growing up:

We lived in the woods – on a hill in what I like to call Pennsyltucky. Much of the wood cleared originally for building the house was saved, split and cured and used to heat.
While not exactly living off the land, my parents, my brother and I lived for a few years in a Mongolian yurt while the “main” house was built. During that time, we used an outhouse, but the yurt was rigged up with hot running water, just no septic tank, hence the outhouse.

For much of my formative years, we had no television, and I think I remember you saying you don’t have one?

About splitting wood – wow, that brings back memories. We used a splitting maul and did it by hand, too. Many of our neighbors did that, as well. I think now my dad uses something automated and the woodstove is augmented with a propane heating system of some sort, and as some of the neighbors got up in years, they use something automated as well.

I remember coming home from track and sometimes spending another hour or so splitting wood. It’s memorable for two reasons: this particular batch was HUGE oak and very fresh, so the maul bounced off quite a bit. Sometimes I had to use a sledge and little metal wedges to get it started. The other reason is that a large sliver flew off very fast, right into my right-hand forefinger’s knuckle and sheared off a lot of skin. Since it was late winter, early spring, and cold getting that injury hurt a lot and I still have the scar.

Anyway, even though I was sometimes very tired after track, I didn’t mind doing it so much even though it was one of my chores since it was a rather head-clearing thing, kind of like I guess walking meditation is supposed to be. Some of those high school years I had very full days and had lots of mental baggage built up over the day.

And like the saying goes: “Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.” 🙂

Anyway, now I live in the suburban hinterlands of Denver and trying to even convey that existence to many would be as if I spoke another language. What I found most shocking about moving out here is that many places have fireplaces, even in apartments. That’s not the shocking part. The shocking part is that they sell wood at the grocery stores like King Sooper’s – and it’s wood from evergreen, like pine. Burning pine just isn’t done in the east as far as I know, as it builds up too much creosote and can cause chimney fires.

Thanks for the stories! I loved ’em.

One cool thing about where I live is that pretty much all of my neighbors split their own wood too. My neighbor on one side uses a yellow plastic-handled, reasonably light maul that does good work on smaller or shorter rounds. I’ve got one of those too and use it for that sort of wood.

But much of my wood is big, fat, long, heavy rounds. For that I use this all metal seriously heavy maul to make the first split. Usually it takes multiple full force whacks. But after the first split, I switch to the lighter maul to finish the piece. I got the idea for this heavier maul from my neighbor on the other side who prefers it.

I’m a mathie/lawyer/Internet guy. My neighbor with the heavy maul is a former Valley engineer. And my neighbor with the lighter maul manages a golf course. It’s not like any of us wear plaid lumberjack shirts, chew tobacco or drive a pick-up truck with a gun rack or anything. Instead, we’re all just into the “Zen” of splittin’ wood.

Thanks again for the stories. And yeah, we don’t have TV at our house. Free! Free at last!

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for the money has gone too far

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