The Zen of Splitting Wood

The cool, crisp days of autumn have arrived, and that means it’s time to split wood. Squirrels stockpile acorns for the long, cold days ahead. We stack firewood.

In the first days of the splitting season, there is a kind of charm—even novelty—to the task. With the hot doldrums of summer over, a welcome, cool breeze blows. All around us trees in spectacular stages of golden yellow and fiery red send leaves to swirl around us.

But after half-a-dozen or so occasions of splitting, the novelty has worn off (for me, but not for my husband,) and I can think of a hundred other things I’d rather be doing—cleaning out litter boxes, paying bills, writing the ending to my novel.

I’m kidding, really. I enjoy the splitting process. After all, my only “chore” in the routine is to stand by the splitter and raise the handle that controls the hydraulics up and down, up and down, while my husband does all the heavy lifting and positioning of the trunk segments. Not difficult work at all. In fact, it’s rather meditative.

Today, as I watched the pile of tree trunk segments shrink and the pile of split wood grow, I compared it to writing my book—the one I should have been working on instead of watching a splitter move up and down, listening to wood creak and crack as it splits and shuddering at the myriad of bugs that skitter around, alarmed by the rude light of day brought by the splitting.

Tree trunk by tree trunk. The process reminded me of Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird. In her memoir about writing and life, she tells the story of her brother, who as a boy sat in tears at the kitchen table the night before a report on birds was due—he’d had three months to write it, and hadn’t begun. In her words, her brother was “immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.” She writes:

“Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

So much of life is that way. Even before I’d heard of Bird by Bird, I remember consoling my son as he sat in the middle of his messy room I’d just told him to clean. As with Anne Lamott’s brother, Adam was “immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.”

“I don’t know where to begin, Mom,” he had complained.
“Pick up your toys first. Then, your dirty clothes. Then, your books . . .”

Bird by Bird, even before I knew the meaning.

So, today, we split trunk by trunk. Then, we stacked log by log. Tonight, I’ll grab a good book and take pleasure in a warm, crackling fire.

And once I post this blog, I’ll get back to my book, Broken Dolls. I’ll write word by word. Page by page. Chapter by chapter. And maybe one day, I’ll have the thrill of knowing someone took pleasure in it—maybe sitting by a fire, after a day of splitting wood.



“Booger,” our little stray puppy who found us.



The Splitter

Bear and Booger
This entry was posted in Anne Lamott, autumn, Bird by Bird, Broken Dolls, novel, splitting wood, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Zen of Splitting Wood

  1. Patty says:

    Awesome post, Jan. I love splitting wood, although carpal tunnel is a danger from working that lever. For some reason, no one on the farm will let me work the chain saw. When I asked why, my brother said, "Two words–lawn mower." If I'd only known wrecking it would've gotten me out of work I would have done it much earlier!I can't wait to sit by the fire and read Broken Dolls page by page. It will be a great pleasure!


  2. Jan Morrill says:

    Patty, that "lawn mower" incident was a blessing in disguise. 🙂


  3. LeAynne says:

    For the 17 years we heated with wood, Tim split it all with a maul and wedge. Swing by swing. Occasionally I'd help with the red oak, as it was much easier, even fun, to powerfully hack in half.But that was about 15 years ago, and we were in "chop wood, carry water" mode. From those eyes, it seems so odd to use a big machine to split wood. Then again, we did use a chain saw, not an axe.


  4. Jan Morrill says:

    LeAynne, believe me–I count our blessings all the time for modern technology when splitting wood! 🙂


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