As I bicycle 6-7 miles down ‘my’ road, named Coddington, I notice a home surrounded with several piles of chopped wood needing to be stacked. In the 1980s and 90s I owned a home with a wood stove, not only enjoying soaking into cozy warmth, but also stacking the cords of wood delivered each spring.
I didn’t realize how much I missed that simple ‘chore’ until the summer of 2022, when I was propelled to stop at a stranger’s home on Coddington, to ask if I could stack their wood – the 80-year-old man unable. Who thanks me many times.
This summer 2023, I walk up to the 2021 Coddington Road home, owned by a couple in their sixties, very fit, saying, “the gods have sent an angel,” after I volunteer to stack the four piles, feeling glee like a child.
Most September days I spend an hour or more, bending, lifting, or throwing the wood into a wheelbarrow, or scraping mud off the ones sunk into mother earth. Being about ten miles outside of Ithaca, NY proper, provides the freshest air, and mostly quiet for contemplation of why I become excited to ride my bike, or scooter to stack wood for a neighbor living 6-7 miles down ‘our’ road.
One of these days, I tell myself how much I love to touch the wood, feel its essence, recognizing how much it gives: oxygen to breathe, warmth to our skin, brightness to our eyes as it fires. Burns in sacrifice. Sometimes snapping me to pay attention.
I notice how satisfied I feel in taking down the bamboo branches that invade the piles, providing shade that prevents drying of the wood. I push the bamboo down and pull it up by the roots if possible and use the leaves to cover the muddy paths between rows. A revelation sprouts: you enjoy destroying the bamboo because it suffocates other flowers, as do fields of golden rod; as religion did to me growing up. I could not believe what I felt was true – only what I was brain-heart-washed by my parents and church.
One day, while my 77-year-old body is stacking, Lewis expresses a pile of gratitude for my service, to which I share my fantasy: “I must have been a tree in a past life.”