I have the good fortune to have some woods just behind my shop. This is always a nice feature for me to have because when stress or pressure is building up I enjoy a short walk in nature to relax my soul. Just the quietness of no one around seems so appealing to me.
Recently we have had some rough weather blow through and it has knocked down some old dead trees and I felt the need to remove them. Typically I wouldn’t worry about clearing out dead trees. Nature for thousands of years has been able to take care of itself without the need for man to clean up after it. A dead decaying tree provides a home for insects, the insects provide food for birds, and the tree gives nutrients for the soil. It’s a perfect ecosystem. On the other hand, some people might say that clearing the debris helps prevent forest fires and allows room for other wildlife to grow and flourish. This too is a good point. But the real reason I have decided to clear out the fallen trees is that they are blocking my common walkway paths.
The fastest and easiest way to get rid of the tree is to grab the chainsaw and start cutting it into smaller pieces. And this was what I was about to do, but then something caused me to pause and rethink my approach.
When most of us think about starting a new project we believe it begins with a trip to a DIY store where we purchase our lumber. The lumber is all milled and square and just waiting to be transformed into a piece of furniture. But this is not where the journey first began. It started where I was standing. In the woods. So I put down my chainsaw and picked up my felling ax.
I decided I wanted to truly experience what our forefathers had to deal with in building a home or even a piece of furniture. I figured to make some usable lumber out of this dead tree would be a work of art in itself. Having never spent any real-time chopping with an ax, I learned a few lessons. And some of them were painful.
The first few swings into the tree were easy. The sapwood was pretty soft from decaying. But once I got to the heartwood, things became tougher. And my technique needed some work. I was swinging the ax too hard. I looked as if I was at a carnival trying to ring the bell with a large hammer hoping to win the quippy doll. Within minutes I was breathing hard and wearing out. Blisters were developing on my hands and my wrists were taking a tremendous impact with each swing. This was tremendously hard on my body. But then I recalled a book I read titled “Old Ways of Working Wood” by Alex W. Bealer. (Click here for the link) He mentions the proper way to hold, use, and swing the ax. Plus why the different handles are on axes and the importance of the correct angle on the edge of the ax. Needless to say, his advice greatly improved my success rate at cutting through the tree and minimizing damage to myself.
Even with the swinging technique, it still was a slow process chopping into the tree. It was during this time I started to have a spiritual experience with the process. For one thing, chopping the tree was a great work out. I was using my shoulders, forearms, biceps, legs, core, and a few more muscles that hurt the following morning. But I was also seeing progress. With each impact the ax made into the tree, a small chip would fly out. It almost was addicting and hypnotic wanting and watching each piece fly out.
After 50 minutes, I was about finished. I was worn out. The tree was approximately 24” in diameter and I had about 3 more inches to go before I was completely through.
I stood back and couldn’t believe that the tree didn’t want to break. It looked like it should have. I was chopping right where half of the tree was on some slightly higher ground. I thought the weight of it would have made the lower end snap. But it didn’t. Even jumping on the end didn’t cause the tree to snap. I was amazed at how strong it was. That’s when I had an epiphany.
The tree represents us as an individual. The ax is problems in our life. Each problem hits us and chips away at who we are. Some blows are big, some are small but they all chip away at our inner self. The true lesson for me was how strong the tree remained even with all the blows, chops, cuts, inflicted on it. It caused me to look at my own values. What do I represent in life and how strong am I with my beliefs? Could I survive an attack on my values? Or would I cave in and break down after a few hits? It was a great moment to reflect on myself.
In the end, I found I really enjoy chopping dead trees in the woods. I’ve even made it part of a daily morning workout. I often thought the woods were a place to escape from the noise in life. It was where I would find some quietness and peace. As it turns out, the woods aren’t just a place to find some quietness but rather a place to be quiet and listen. In that silence of listening, nature would speak to me with some unique life lessons.
Chad Stanton- Owner of Stanton Fine Furniture