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Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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« journal fiction | Main | harp pine »

woodpile philosophy

There's a mouse in the boathouse. We've gotten used to having him around, to tell you the truth. I can hear him rattling something in the walls, renovating his summer quarters, cleaning out the cobwebs, storing away sunflower seeds swiped from the birdfeeder outside our sleeping cabin. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch him clamber down a chain on the wall and run across the floor. He's probably gotten used to me hanging around in the early morning, I'm sure.

Jeff and I are going home today. After Parki left, we spent a few hours doing some tidying up around the cottage. Jeff did some repairs and additions to the water system, and I restocked the woodpile. Jeff offered to help...I thanked him but said no. For me, this kind of activity is the equivalent of relaxing meditation. :-)

Firewood at the cottage goes through several phases. "Wood day" occurs every couple of years, and basically consists of ordering a face cord (pile of wood 8 feet long, 4 feet high, one piece of wood deep). The wood is delivered to the cottagers' dock in one big pile. It generally takes several boatloads across the lake, and then the wood is stacked in the "new wood" pile. There are three containing the newest wood, second pile nearer to the cottage (in above photo), and then a smaller pile of wood stacked up against the boathouse, just beside the door and beneath the roof overhang. The last pile is handy for winter visits since it doesn't get buried beneath four feet of snow. The reason for the other two piles is to separate wood from different wood days. Older wood burns better, so it makes sense to let firewood "age" for as long as possible.

During this trip, we went through a lot of wood. Since I felt mainly responsible (being up at 5 am pretty much every morning and always lighting a fire), I took on the task of restocking the second and third woodpiles by moving wood from the first pile, which is up the hill. It's a bit of a workout (my arm muscles still feel a bit wobbly as I type this), but I figured I've been slacking off for the past several days so needed the exercise. Plus for the therapeutic effect I mentioned in the first paragraph.

After my experience with the corporate dot-com world, restocking firewood is a hugely relaxing activity, mainly because it is so repetitive. My equivalent of knitting or cross-stitch, I suppose. :-) Minimal attention is required (only enough to make sure you don't trip over rocks and roots as you trudge up and down the hill), which leaves lots of room for reflection and daydreaming.

As I carried wood, I couldn't help but contrast the activity to what I was doing six months ago. Then I thought, what would be different if I was stacking firewood for a dot-com company?

A Possible Scenario

SUPERVISOR: Hi, I'm Steve. What are you doing?

ME: Your company told me to stack firewood. I'm getting pretty tired, though. They said I could hire some help. When will I be able to do that?

SUPERVISOR: Hiring freeze right now, sorry. Anyway, you're not stacking the firewood properly. Here let me show you how. Here, why not try it like -this-?

ME: Um, doesn't it hurt when you do that?

SUPERVISOR: Hey, it's just a suggestion. Anyway, I need a report about how you think we can improve the whole process on my desk by tomorrow. And please hurry! We want a big a pile as possible as fast as possible! We -know- you can do it.

[Next day.]

SUPERVISOR: Hi, I'm Ted. What are you doing?

ME: Stacking firewood. Where's Steve?

SUPERVISOR: He's been transferred to Ops. I was hired yesterday. Anyway, you're stacking firewood in the wrong place. It should be over there.

ME: Okay. Uh, listen...I'm getting really tired here. Can I get some help?

SUPERVISOR: Sure, I'll see what I can do. And can you get a report to me about how you think we can improve the whole process?

ME: I gave a copy to Steve already.

SUPERVISOR: Oh. Well, I haven't seen it. I'd like an updated version on my desk by the end of the day, thanks.

[Several hours pass.]

SUPERVISOR: Hi, I'm Pete. Ted was transferred to another project. I was hired yesterday. Anyway, turns out we've run out of matches so we can't use the firewood yet anyway. Slow down on the firewood stacking until we find more matches, ok?

ME: Um, okay. I haven't had a break in a while, by the way. When do you think I can get some help?

SUPERVISOR: Soon, very soon. Anyway, you were stacking the wood in the wrong place. You should be stacking it over there instead.

ME: That's where I -was- stacking firewood, but Ted told me to stack it in the new place.

SUPERVISOR: Ted was wrong. You'll have to move the wood.

ME: Um, okay. But I have to warn you that I'm REALLY exhausted here.

SUPERVISOR: Ok, I'll see what I can do. And can you get a report to me about how you think we can improve the whole process?

ME: I already gave updated copies to Ted and Steve, but I'll print out a copy for you, too.

[Ten minutes pass.]

SUPERVISOR: Hi, I'm Lance. Pete's been promoted. Anyway, I know you're overworked, so we're going to hire some help for you. This is Gomer; he's here to apply for the job. Can you interview him and give us your feedback?

ME: Sure.

SUPERVISOR: And could you speed up the firewood stacking? Some potential investors from across the lake are going to be visiting, so we need as big a pile as possible as soon as possible. Oh...and I'd like you come up with some ideas on how to improve the whole process.

ME: I already gave copies to Steve, Ted, and Pete.

LANCE: But I never got one. Print out a dozen copies for the team, ok? We can discuss this in our next weekly Team Motivational Meeting.

[An hour later, after Gomer leaves.]

ME: I don't think you should hire Gomer. He doesn't know what firewood is. He also doesn't see the point of fireplaces, anyway.

LANCE: Thanks for your input. We definitely don't want to hire anyone you aren't comfortable working with. And can you get a report to me about how you think we can improve the whole process?

ME: I already gave you a copy.

LANCE: Are you sure? I don't remember. Anyway, print out out another copy for me.

[Next day]

LANCE: Great news! Gomer's been hired to help you.

ME: I'm confused. I had recommended he -not- be hired.

LANCE: Just give him a chance, okay? Anyway, here he is...

GOMER: Hi there! I'm really looking forward to working with you to move this project forward, going forward. I have all kinds of great ideas to help us think outside the box. Let me know what I can do to help you.

ME: Um, okay. You could start by helping carry some of this firewood.

GOMER: Sure, absolutely, no problemo. But first I have a two-hour lunch meeting with my buddy, Pete The Senior Manager Who Has Great Influence in This Company. We go back a long ways, you know, ha ha. By the way, Lance wants us to come up with a list of ways we can improve the process.

[Next week]

LANCE: So how's it going, guys?

GOMER: Just great. Lots of things are happening.

LANCE: Um. Why does the woodpile look smaller?

ME: Gomer accidentally set fire to the woodpile yesterday.

GOMER: That wasn't my fault. You should have -told- me not to pour gasoline on the wood and toss on a burning cigarette.

LANCE: Ah, that's okay, Gomer. If we need something to burn in the fireplace, we can use this stack of old papers I found in a bottom drawer my office desk the other day.

ME: Those are my Process Report docs.

LANCE: Great, even better!

Today's Blatherpics:

- Me and my woodpile.

- Fireplace this morning.

Feel free to suggest a daily poll question.

Today's Poll: (Courtesy Jeff)

Have you ever gone skinnydipping?

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