Firewood

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Around this time last year I scolded myself for having procrastinated in purchasing firewood and vowed to never again allow myself to end up stranded in the cold. Well, apparently old firewood habits die hard. This year, Jim and I once again spent the summer months basking in the warmth of denial. We kayaked, hiked, mountain biked, and barbecued. We lounged in the sun like reptiles, intent upon soaking up every ounce of warmth provided to us during the lengthening hours of daylight.

To consider the purchase of firewood was to admit to summer’s mortality. And so, once again, we waited until the slow decline of summer could no longer be repressed from consciousness. And then, resigned to acknowledge summer’s passing or be snowed in and frozen in our steadfast refusal, we picked up the phone to inquire about ordering a stash of wood for our fire. We were laughed at. Scoffed. Mocked, once again, for our ill-preparedness. However, what our approach lacked in proactivity, it made up for in persistence. A source of firewood was found! As supplies of the seasoned stock had been tapped out long before we picked up the phone, we were resigned to accept “green” wood (meaning that the wood is not sufficiently seasoned, not, as I once believed, that it is literally green). Having had consistent (forced) practice over the past year with the concept of being grateful for what is available, we accepted our delivery of green wood with open arms. Looking back upon last year’s acquisition of firewood, during which we sawed, chopped, split (and on occasion wrestled) log-length monstrosities into morsels deemed appropriate by our little wood stove, we reflected upon how easy we have it this year.

Our firewood was delivered to us in pre-sawed, pre-chopped, and pre-split ready-to-burn pieces. And, since September, there it has sat. A heaping pile of procrastination, tucked conveniently just out of view in the far corner of our yard. In all fairness, we have not had the opportunity to stack it until very recently, knowing full well that our mediocre piles of timber wouldn’t stand a chance in the path of the excavation equipment that has been dutifully transforming our driveway and front yard.

And so, as our little cabin draws ever closer to entering the 21st century, we followed suit through the implementation of modern innovation (also known as laziness). We called in the troops: Mom, Dad, and their dump truck arrived last Saturday with their tractor in tow. And so we set to work. Dad, who appears at his happiest when in command of his tractor (a machine that submits to his every knowing request in a manner that my brother and I steadfastly rejected upon many a weekend workday), directed our heap of firewood into the dump truck, bucketload by bucketload. The mass was then deposited inches from the location where it would sit for the winter, in waiting. Mom and I needed only to lift the logs from the ground, turn, and stack them neatly against the cabin’s outer walls.

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Jim was the only one to rage against the machines. Quiet and methodical in his rebellion, he emerged between dump truck loads to deposit in our yard small wheelbarrow batches of logs that he had sawed into wood stove length pieces earlier in the fall. Beneath the intrepid purr of engines, he echoed a thin but persistent rhythm of logs being split by hand and maul. By the end of the day, he had laid out before him a heap of freshly-split wood, a splintered pile of the cautious but resolute expression of conscious self-sufficiency that he has maintained throughout the lifetime in which I have known him.

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Even with the support of two extra sets of hands, a dump truck, and a tractor, the daylight hours dwindled rapidly. After delivering the majority of our firewood to the edge of the driveway, the equipment was trailered and driven away. Our job was only to stack the remaining mass of logs. And then it snowed. A drain beneath the house froze (although we don’t yet have running water, we have been using a hose- connected to the pressure tank- as a temporary water supply). Jim spent the day under the cabin using a space heater and a hair dryer to coax the sufficiently chilled drain pipe back into commission, then constructing a solution so as to avoid spending future afternoons in the company of dirt and spray-foam. Thus, we decided to abandon the wood-stacking project, planning to return the following day, at which point the snow surely would have melted from the earth. And then it snowed the next day. And the day after that. Suffice to say, a partially-stacked pile of firewood sits capped in snow, patiently awaiting the return of the sun. If winter persists in its (somewhat but not entirely) precocious emergence, our little wood pile will remain, resigned to pass the time before its final journey to the wood stove as a heaping collective, delivered from centuries of effortful hands, each offering up the same end result.

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Water for the Pipes

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We continue to be a cluster of moving parts, drawing closer together each day, but still not connecting. We have electricity. A well. Our septic system is complete. Plumbing will go in soon- the final integrating step. We have cabinets but no countertop (yet). Appliances have been ordered, but cooking is an impossibility today. We rely upon cold meals or take-out from a small handful of local restaurants, each of which are becoming familiar with us and our all-too-predictable eating habits. I feel like I’m developing a reputation…

But the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel is growing brighter by the day. Now as I glance around the cabin, I catch myself seeing shadows of what will be rather than what is. This morning I actually turned on the faucet of the bathroom sink, fully expecting to be greeted by a stream of water. (I should mention here that in my slightly impatient anticipation of the arrival of our plumber, I have set up the sink to appear as though the pipes are actually connected- I even adorned it with a bottle of hand soap and a display of our toothbrushes. The only thing missing- plumbing aside- is the physical manifestation of my aspirations for this tiny space. Believe me, if they were in any way tangible I would have splatter-painted them across the bathroom walls.)

The hardest part about construction is the state of dysfunction. We lived in this little cabin for more than a year with nothing- no electric, no well, no septic, no cabinets- but we could cook, clean, and stay warm. Now, in the presence of many of these luxuries, we are remarkably not self-sufficient. We are dependent. We used to have a shower (water was carried in, so it was an admittedly short, but always hot, shower). A Coleman camping stove served as our cooktop. In the process of seeking more, what little we had has been dismantled.

But this is ok. As the renovation of our little cabin nears completion, I feel more and more like a sellout crawling around in the infrequently-bathed skin of a hippie. I read about others who stumbled into their own versions of the cabin, and remained there for years. Even a lifetime. A haunt of what-ifs comes rushing down. Vultures preparing to feed.

Going through this renovation, I realize, is my last foreseeable opportunity to connect with the original reason I fell in love with the cabin. It keeps life hard. Maintains the few remaining threads that link me to the version of myself I discovered within the past year. The one who builds a fire when she is cold, and lights a candle when it is dark. Because her consciousness is required for such things as light and warmth, she places her heart into the mundane, and in doing so, finds the pulse. She is connected. Grounded. An albeit messy part of the whole, but still a living, breathing, inextricably integrated, component of some great rhythm.

The version of myself who sits with me now is decidedly disconnected. In limbo. Like the facade of a functional bathroom sink, any semblance of integration she presents crumbles away when you reach beyond the superficial. She fears the trade-off associated with simply turning a knob for hot water. Finds herself absentmindedly leaving lights on when she once marked time by the dripping of candle wax, the reduction of its wick. While I have to admit that I look forward to being able to shower on a whim in a way I never could have comprehended before this year, I worry that this will come at a cost. That the force of ease and comfort will drive me away from the heartbeat. The great rhythm will drum on without me.

I am going to have to find new ways to tune in- as I doubt the old avenues will continue to mark the way much longer. Even now, I can feel the path closing in. The connection fading. The pulse, when I am able to hear it, comes only in whispers. There are other noises now, and they muffle the sound.

But it will come. It will be a new adventure, like wandering toward a familiar summit from an unexplored approach. Perhaps I’ll even discover new perspectives along my way. But I must start at the beginning rather than pretending that I am already at the top simply because I’ve been there before. I must find water for the pipes before expecting the sink to serve its purpose, or I will simply be left with an appealing, yet inwardly empty, vanity.

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Liquid

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It’s early morning in the cabin. A blanket of darkness and falling rain surround the pine walls, fall rhythmically upon the pitched roof. Lights glow from inside. Hot water steams from the kettle, and from my freshly-steeped mug of tea. I am so grateful for light and for warmth.

There is a sudden shift in the pitter-patter beat of the rain. The sound of a stream. The sound of the outside having found its way in. I look to the wall beside me and observe a thin but persistent line of water drawing itself down the wall. A small pool collects upon the floor. Bursting from my moment of reverie, I climb up the ladder, following the source of the stream. Our upstairs picture window, which has been known to leak since we moved in (and has been patiently sitting upon our to-do list) has welcomed a puddle of rainwater to its sill. This has spilled over, run down the sheet rock wall, gathered on the plywood floor, and seeped through to the downstairs where it first presented itself to me. A rainfall of water had veered off course (AKA was pouring through my little cabin, casting a torrent upon my lazy, relaxing morning) and was now seeking to reconnect itself with the earth- to return to its natural path.

Water poured its way into my last post- just a few days ago- and now, here it is again. Seeping through the cracks. Forcing me to take another look as I mop up the spill.

If language were liquid it would be rushing in. Lyrics from Suzanne Vega’s Language wind their way through my mind. Instead here we are in a silence more eloquent than any words could ever be. 

I’d been caught in the act. That short description of my quiet morning in the dark sounded pretty Zen didn’t it? When I look back on the moment, those are the images I connect with. The darkness. The rain. Tea, steaming. Lights, illuminating. I imagine the witness who observes these moments of my life as a little Buddha. Smiling, cherishing, embracing. Present.

The witness, however, is not who I was sitting with when the rain poured through my little cabin. I was fixed upon the kitchen wall that needs to be cut open to accommodate a new window, the bathroom that needs tiling before the plumbing can be installed. I was on my iPad googling tiny house kitchen designs, even though I’ve already wrestled every last micro-detail of our to-be kitchen into place. The truth is, I was halfway through my cup of tea, and I couldn’t tell you what it tasted like. What pattern the steam displayed as it danced its way out of my cup.

I carry this little Buddha inside of me- I imagine we all do- this gracious witness. But who do I turn to in moments of silence? The closest thing that will fill the space. Maybe water pouring down the inner walls of my cabin is nothing more than the result of a chronically defective window seal in the presence of a storm. But maybe it’s also language in liquid form, rushing through my inner world as I refuse to open into the silence. If language were liquid it would be rushing in…

As the cabin is transformed, I am moving out of a space where stillness is the natural state of being. My screens (computer, phone, etc.) no longer go dead after only a few hours- they plug into outlets now that allow them to be lit for as long as I desire to stare, to surf, to scroll. I don’t need to go outside to power the generator in order to have electric. Flicking on a switch is more and more becoming an unconscious process.

And this is ok. But not always. When I look back, it was during moments of stillness when I fell in love with the cabin, with Jim, with a quirky fragmented part of myself. It is within the spaces of silence where my life has come into color. So why do I feel so compelled to fill my days with kitchen designs and google searches? The same reason rain pours in through an unsealed window. Empty spaces have a way of becoming full.

Perhaps the rain, as it rushes in, can be a reminder. To carve out some space for consciousness within the chatter. To turn away from the static every now and again, pull up a chair, and invite the witness to have a seat. Like the cabin, rain may always seep through the cracks. Noise has a way of spilling in. But I can still hold a space for the witness. For the feeling of wrapping my hands around a warm cup of tea. For the soft drumming of rain upon a roof. For the warmth of a room rebelliously filled with light while the world outside remains wrapped in a soft blanket of darkness.

A Cabin in Motion

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The cabin is in motion. A well has been drilled. A septic system is being installed. Our bathroom is continuing to take shape. I am surrounded by water, but aside from that hauled in from the faucets of neighbors on the back of my husband, there is not yet a drop to drink.

But water is here nonetheless. Construction- like any change- comes in waves. I expect, anticipate, linearity. Constant. I try to thrust the calm moments forward. It’s as much an impossibility as drawing a rope around a wave and pulling it into shore. But still, I tug. And then the wave, on its own pulse, arcs. Crashes in upon the earth. And what do I do? I run. Sometimes I try to press it back into the sea. In either case, I am ultimately enveloped. And even though I know how to swim, I fight the current, the ebb and flow of the tide.

I am not good at change.

But then there are moments of surrender. I’d like to take credit for these, but they are typically born of my exhaustion. I find myself surrounded, and realize that swimming is not so bad after all. The crashing and retreating of each wave loses its intensity as I allow myself to bob with the surf. And somewhere along the way I connect with the beauty of the calm, the power of the rising wave. And I recognize that water is water. Rushing, retreating, or still. I drink it in.

But this requires climbing in. Letting go of my separateness. Committing completely and surrendering my capacity to turn away.

My own moments of resist and surrender mirror the pattern of the tides. The arching flow of construction as it crashes against a cabin, that until our recent presence, had sat with static sureness on its little hillside.

It’s beautiful to be in the surf together. Terrifying to loosen my grip and let go. Freeing to open to the new as it rushes in.

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Excavation equipment at rest in what used to be our front yard

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Our new septic tank!

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Shingles, overlooking the excavator and the view before finding their home on the outside of the cabin.

Integration

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Sometimes I feel like human duct tape. Pulled in a thousand dizzying directions. Containing this. Masking that. Doing my best to present as shiny and complete that which is never truly pulled together. That being said, I like duct tape. It’s a solid resource to hold in one’s possession- and I’m a huge fan of the colorful “designer” versions that bind the worn edges of all-things-imaginable with a smile.

Where am I going with this? Since my last post less than two short weeks ago, our home has been illuminated with electricity and baptized with water. Said water sits complacently within our newly born well (patiently awaiting the arrival of plumbing and septic), but still, water is water. As a generator is no longer needed to power our lights and outlets, we now find ourselves struck by sound waves of silence. I still run around with my headlamp on in the dark, having fallen out of the habit of looking for switches to light my way. The shift in orientation is like doing a headstand and all at once having to look up to find the ground.

Back to duct tape. Life can be disorienting. We’re so often stretched this way and that. Wrapped around and around in one instant, only to be torn free in the next. I like to think that I have more will and control than a metallic role of sticky- although some days I feel this sense of will more than others- but in the end, who’s to say for certain?

As the saga of our little cabin unfolds, the story line that ties together the fragmented pieces of each moment has begun to come into view. The drilling of a well feels completely haphazard and destructive in the moment. Here we are, chiseling down from some arbitrary X-marks-the-spot, boring into the very layers of earth upon with we stand, and disrupting a stream or cavernous pool from its familiar state of rhythm. In the moment, this is an assault. A trespassing. An abduction.

But this is not the end of the story. There will be a new flow. Water, once only familiar with earth and stone, will pour over live beings. Nourish gardens. And continue its journey back down into the deep unknown. Or at least this is the story I’ve purchased. Standing here in my role of the being in need of hydration. The water itself may have a different perspective.

Regardless of truth, it is my story that keeps me ok. It brings meaning to an otherwise harsh existence of fragmented connections, formed and then disrupted. The story breeds integration from haphazardly scattered parts. I am grateful for my sense of consciousness, for while I don’t believe I am the author of the novel, with consciousness I am at least literate. I only hope our little cabin can connect the dots. See that we love its pine walls. Its comically pitched roofline. The mountains it opens our eyes to every morning. And the blazing sun it obediently presents to us as the curtains draw closed, signaling the end of the show. I hope that the cabin knows my gratitude. And that she will continue to receive me, in all of my not so obviously cohesive fragments, for years to come.

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Finding our way through

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What is it about seeing the light that suddenly makes the tunnel so unbearable? After living without power for the past 14 months, we are presently on the brink of having electricity (5 days and counting!). To mark the occasion, we’ve spent the weekend selecting and installing light fixtures, taking bets as to for how long we will each stumble around in the dark before we realize that switching on a light is an option.

The fixtures look beautiful- illuminating, even without the benefit of electric, the promise of what lies around the next bend. But man oh man, do they ever look out of place. Below them, a floor layered in wood shavings and sheetrock dust rejects the benefit of a broom, threatening to undo whatever sweeping is accomplished with the debris of the next day’s endeavors. Beyond them, the skeleton of an unfinished wall parades its bones in a menacing dance of work yet to be done. Above, rough cut pine beams clash against a plywood ceiling, clouds of insulation puffing out along the edges. I love our new fixtures. But they remind me of the night of my junior prom when I arrived at my very first after-party to learn I was the only one who hadn’t brought a change of clothes- they are the full length gown in a room full of denim. It’s a first world problem- and after more than a year of living in the cabin you’d think this would be a welcomed right of passage.

Through a year when dreams have been realized, shattered, and reborn, this little cabin has been our sanctuary. When life was crazy, we knew we could hermit ourselves away between its walls, turn our phones off or just let the batteries run dry, and escape. If it was cold, we made a fire. When it was dark, we lit a candle. The cabin made it ok to step outside into a world of uneven footing because we knew we could return home to 300 square feet of level ground.

And now we’ve decided to make it our permanent home. Whether or not it has been the right decision, we’ve arranged to bring in electric and plumbing, to install a kitchen and a bathroom, and even a real driveway. We are transforming our little sanctuary. But what if we ruin it in the process? Construction is messy- I get it- but how do I trust that when it’s all said and done it will have been worth it? When we attempted to build our first home, we dismantled a lot of earth and stone in the path of what we believed to be our dream. It turned out to be a learning experience at best, a disaster at worst.

When life begins to feel icky (as all of us, especially those who have lived in a construction project, can relate), how do we discern between a necessary challenge en route to greater fulfillment and a sign that we’re moving in the wrong direction? In the present moment, both feel pretty similar to me. The most terrifying part of this current adventure is that the cabin was our last strong hold. Now everything is in flux. With sawdust on the floor, and the contents of my kitchen splayed out upon the living room, bedroom, and unfinished bathroom, there is nowhere to hermit myself away.

The only choice is to accept the leap we’ve taken, and fall into surrender with as much grace as we can muster. Grace. I’m the girl who in a prom dress managed to pale in comparison to denim- it’s safe to say that grace is not my thing.

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Having been afraid of heights for as far back in my childhood as memory spans, I see myself as more of a cling-to-the-ledge-and-never-let-your-feet-leave-the-ground kind of girl.

I have no answers for tomorrow, but for tonight, here is what has settled my soul: We ate by candlelight, forgoing the temptation of our battery-powered lamps. We listened to music. Read. Wrote. Before bed, I stepped outside, gazed up at the sky, felt the cool fall air against my face and in my lungs, and was blanketed in the silence. Now, I am the only one awake. Time is marked by the deep inhales and exhales of my husband and my dogs as they breath themselves through sleep, and the clicking and pausing rhythm of my keyboard.

For a brief moment, before my racing mind resumes its diatribe, there is no right or wrong choice, no black or white future governed by the blind decisions of the here and now. There is only the present reminder that what I need to feel whole is not bound together by boards and windows. It is (thankfully!) beyond that which I have the power to create or destroy. It is, like the outlets that sit upon my walls in silent promise, a channel to connect with or abandon. Only (also thankfully!) this channel is not dependent upon the power company showing up next week to run their lines. It is a sanctuary beyond the walls of our little cabin.

 

De-construction

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“What is in the way is the way.” I don’t know who said this, and can’t even recall where I heard it for the first time, but these words have been echoing through my ears during the current chapter of our renovation project. As I stand in my little cabin today, there is the skeleton of a framed but unfinished wall preparing to contain a bathroom, the promise of light in the form of new electric wires, switches, and conduit, and a view out the back window of wild earth transformed into sloping driveway. There is also the absence of our pantry (taken down in order to prepare for our new bathroom), which has prompted the food and kitchen supplies it once contained to leap into every corner of our living space. Veggies perch precariously atop our toaster oven, a bottle of olive oil has chosen to pair itself with a smattering of electrical supplies strewn across the to-be bathroom floor, and a set of mixing bowls has found its way into my nightstand…rebelliously boycotting the first floor of the cabin entirely. Here we sit on the edge of realizing our dream for this little cabin of ours, and yet as I look out across all that is contained within the cabin’s 16X24-foot walls, my joy and excitement are nearly consumed by the fear of being unable to find my way through.

What is this mess? In the process of simplifying my life over this past year, how have I managed to squirrel away 35 bottles of dried spices? I don’t have an oven, and am down to only one functional burner on my trusty Coleman camping stove. What did I think I was going to make? Wake up one morning to find myself blessed with culinary genius (which has evaded me entirely throughout my first thirty years of life) only to discover with shocked disbelief that I had discarded my jar of yellow saffron? I am the girl who once confused cinnamon with cumin. A little less access to spice may do me (an those around me) well.

Whatever the reason for my persistent hoarding of spices, here I sit, surrounded by a sea of my self deconstructed, faced with the decision of where too from here. What better way to face the dark corners of yourself than to have them strewn across your home, free to be seen and trampled upon by the discerning eye of an electrician, a carpenter’s steel toes. The cabin has taught me to let go of so much. To seek water from kind neighbors and the effort of my husband, rather than from a faucet. To trust the light of a candle over the flip of a switch. To blaze a path through the snow with boots and shoes rather than a plow. It is not enough. Still, I continue to cling, to fight the fear of the release into the great unknown, unable to trust. And yet, each time I loosen my grasp I am reminded, yes, of the fear, but also of freedom.

Is the way to abundance really through surrender? I am struck by the impulse to throw it all away- the spices, the furniture- to cast it aside in an effort to disown the chaotic corners of myself, now that they can no longer be hidden. Let the electricians and builders see only the neat, polished version. Jim reads my thoughts, gives me the don’t-you-dare-throw-away-our-home-and-our-bank-account-for-the-sake-of-order look, and I know the answer. It is acting upon it that is the challenge, the cause for hesitation. Here I go, muddling my way through the chaos. Letting it be. Trusting that what is in the way, is the way.