These days I don’t know whether I believe in God. But if he’s out there somewhere, he may have given Zack and I just what we needed in the form of a fallen tree.
It crashed in our yard in early September, during a powerful storm when we were at the beach for a last-minute getaway. When I first saw it, I thought, great, just another chore, something else we have to figure out how to make time for. And I was really pissed because we’d just bought a cord of firewood a few weeks earlier; I knew this tree could provide free fuel for a couple of winters.
But I soon began to have a different perspective. For one thing, the tree crashed in such a way as to spare everything else in the yard. It didn’t take out any other trees or plants. It landed in the one exact spot, the one exact alignment, that this was possible—and about two inches away from a beloved pawpaw we planted two years ago and have been nurturing.
I realized that we wouldn’t have been able to use the firewood this season anyway; it would need to sit out until next year to dry. In the meantime, we could turn its many branches into brush piles for chipmunks, squirrels, mice, birds and other critters. Since we spend a lot of time and conscious effort making plant and landscape choices that benefit wildlife, this seemed therapeutic. Plus, we could use some of the branches to make a woodland fort for Zoe.
Also, it turns out that tree chopping is a really great way to process grief. These days, I don’t have much appetite for distractions, and I’ve been having trouble concentrating; things that should take five minutes to read take 20. Tree chopping requires concentration but not in the way that reading does. You can let your mind wander and when you come back to earth, you’ve still made progress. And it’s a great activity for introverts. It allows Zack and I to spend hours together without the need for much talking.
When you’re chopping a tree on Planet I Delivered a Dead Baby, your mind can go to some weird places. I wasn’t out there long before I started noticing all kinds of metaphors for grief.
In addition to endless stacking of firewood, my task involved chopping smaller branches with a hatchet into more manageable sizes for the brush piles. Chipping away at the dark hardened exterior reveals a brighter, younger, greener, more pliable core. That newer, better part falls to the ground, freed from the heavy core to become a new type of shelter for life.
More metaphors. Ease of chopping doesn’t always correlate to appearance; some of the thickest branches are the easiest ones to split, while those that seem like they should snap off remain stubborn after many hacks. Branches with no foundation—that cannot be easily laid on the chopping block, that must be chopped in midair—yield reluctantly.
Zack’s task is to chop the large, sawed-off rounds into firewood with huge swing after swing of the ax. As he noted, you can chop away 100 times before one swing—one day—it suddenly splits open. You think, boy, that was a hard nut to crack. And then you look behind you and realize there are still many more in need of cracking.
Also, my hands now have blisters that hurt like hell. And I realize we may not finish this tree before winter. We may need to leave some of it for the spring. In the meantime, it will dry. And become something new again.