On Sunday, I found myself in Michigan again.
It was early in the evening when I noticed Chris and his father in the woods. Chris was using a small saw to cut apart a fallen tree. Mr. Tom was swinging a very large axe.
Large, powerful, dangerous tools? I had to look into this.
I noticed Chris was sawing away at a fallen tree.
“What are you doing,” I said, not to ask the obvious, but it seemed counterproductive to take all that effort to cut a tree into pieces when we were standing in the middle of a forest full of pieces of trees.
“Cutting wood for the fire,” he said, pointing out the obvious that I had just asked about.
Under my breath I made a snarky remark about the fact that all around us was wood for fire. And to make a point even more obvious, I started walking around to gather the obvious pieces of trees.
I collected assorted branches and twigs throwing them into a large green bag. As I went back for more and listened to the rhythmic sawing of my husband cutting apart a tree, I noticed something ahead. It was Mr. Tom (Mr. Tom is my father-in-law; the Mr. is just for formality, the Tom is for informality).
Something about Mr. Tom caught my eye. Something indeed. You see, Mr. Tom was hacking away at a log with a large, sharp, attractive looking axe. Now, I’ve never swung an axe but right at the moment I had to hold that axe. Forget picking up sticks, I had to see what that axe was like. To be that powerful with something so sharp. My eyes lit up, I was like a little kid. I needed that tool.
I asked Mr. Tom if I could see the axe. It was a large axe, a heavy axe. You could sense he knew it would come to nothing good in my hands. He looked at me with a hint of hesitant suspicion in his eyes. At this point, Mr. Tom probably knows better from desperate stories of my husband filled with what has she done now (the water heater, the waashing machine, all early morning inconvenient cries from me to Chris to Mr. Tom to please bring tools and fix this now). I sensed he knew that nothing good could come of me and tools. Cautiously, he handed over the axe.
Long wooden handle with a heavy metal head. At first I looked for a target. It just seemed like the right thing to do and the most appropriate thing to soften what would become the axe’s blow. More importantly, I could see where this was going. Symbolically, a log, a branch, a stump, anything that would be the targeted object of displaced anger and pent up frustration. I located my target and stood with legs firm. I heaved the axe over my head, let it hit downwards hard and…..competely missed the log. I tried again, and completely missed….again.
After a few more tries, Mr. Tom sensed I was no threat unless you could count hacking the leaves into a million pieces. He grabbed a smaller axe and went back to cutting up his log.
And then it happened. I heaved the axe and it hit the log with an angry thump. It bounced off and immediately I hit it again, and again, and again. I chopped and chopped, faster, with fury until something clicked an I could hear nothing but a string of furious statements and cuss words come pouring out in a silent scream inside my head.
I stopped and looked around. Holy sh*t, I mean crap, oh poo. Screw it, if you’re keeping track of cuss words I failed long ago. I stood there in the woods.
I wonder if anyone else heard? The angry words,the cussing. I looked at Chris, still sawing away, Mr. Tom chopping at the log. Nothing, not a stir. So I decided to try the axe again as a sinister laugh rumbled in my mind. Not just to prove to myself that I was not psychopath for hearing voices in my head but because I had to feel that again. It felt great.
Inside my head a voice screamed and curse and a release of rage flew out as chunks of wood also flew outwards until finally the branch split in half. After it broke, I saw no need to stop. I just kept chopping, and hacking, and hitting the axe against the grain of the wood until a massive upheaval, a release thundered through my arms and left me feeling, welll, good.
My legs tingled, I was breathing hard. I picked up the battered branch and realized I had cut myself a small log. I walked towards Chris and Mr. Tom who were hauling their efforts to the green bag.
“Whatcha got there?” Chris asked, pointing to the log.
I looked in my hand. What did I have? Honetsly, a pretty sad looking little log. About 12 inches in length. But it was more than that. A log, a symbolic piece, a week, a month, a year or more worth of frustration, of dissatisfaction, of anything, of everything, of being restless, and moody, and grumpy, and angry all here in this little log, all out in my hands through my hands from out of my head.
As I tossed it into the green bag, I got it. Why Chris was sawing away in the heat of the woods, why Mr. Tom was making v-cuts in the fallen log. Not because it was a waste of time, or doing what nature had already done in scattering the forest floor with pieces of wood. No, we didn’t need little pieces of wood, they were already there. That’s not why they did it. They sawed and chopped because it felt good. Because it physically let go what each of us had been holding on to for any given amount of time. Because it was work that made us feel powerful, strong, and free. It was the safest, least invasive, least hurtful way we could get out what we had felt so powerless about inside about anything we might have felt – life, house, lost dreams, work, wife, kids, money, anything and everything that had weighed so heavy at times in our head came out through our hands.
Sometimes our frustrations sit heavy in our head. They fill our head with clutter and noise. And we sit there exercising our brains about all of the ways to get back, to let it out, to make it known that we’re angry and we’re not taking it anymore. But I wonder if we are missing something here, something so fundemental. If in all of our automation and lack of survival work to be done, we’ve forgotten how these purely simple activities can literally help us survive. Going out into the woods, chopping away at something to let the rage out – a survival skill, a coping mechanism? It’s your call but all that I know is that when I emerged from that forest I felt better than I’ve felt in a long time.
Later that night, I threw the log into the fire. And it burned. And perhaps all that was pent up in me had burned too. As I watched it light up, I realized how important this was. What a release I felt. And how we need to get back to the basics, back to the raw tasks of survival to let it out, get it out, and feel free – to call TIMBER in the forest as we hack, saw, chop, cut, pull it all out to get ourselves through the grumbling, bad energy that can sometimes fill our days.