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Pace and rhythm are the eraser to the chalkboard of the mind.
To the north and west of our home is a shallow valley. “That’s where the weather comes from,” my neighbor Paul, says to me as we’re talking across the fence. On fair days, I love the long view, but I often look in that direction with a sense of expectation, as if at any moment a locomotive might come barreling down. At that corner of the property there’s a hedge of maple, apple and balsam fir grown chaotically together. It provides a buffer from the rain and wind - locomotive protection.
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I’ve seen photographs of our home taken over 100 years ago. The hills around are stark and bare - nary a tree to be found. When it was built in 1880, 80% of the forest had been harvested and cleared for agriculture. I’ve read accounts of how vicious the winter weather was with no trees to slow the winds and offer protection.
Thanks to westward migration and the federal government’s newly established forestry policies in the early 1900’s, pressure was taken off the land, and the forest was allowed to regenerate. Though it took decades to accomplish, looking around our house now, I think it’s nothing short of miraculous how the forest has reclaimed the landscape. These days, so robust is the forest, that it takes ongoing effort to keep the fields open.
This week of warm weather in November has been great for stacking wood. Our delivery was for five cords. Each cord is four feet high, by four foot wide, by eight feet long - 128 cubic feet of maple, beech, ash, birch and cherry. Each cord contains about 800 logs. Total, that makes about four thousand pieces of wood, That’s two thousand trips from the pile to the row to be stacked. It’s a process to which I surrender myself. I look at it as my fall fitness and mental well-being regimen!
Stacking wood does not require thought. Rather, it requires rhythm and pace. Pace and rhythm are the eraser to the chalkboard of the mind. When the mind is blank, something finds it way to it. Ideas surface out of the now here, then pop like a carbonated bubble. A melody drifts in, then out, then back in again. Bird song is noticed. Sunlight emerges and hits the trampled grass.
Burning wood is not the cleanest way to heat our home, but at least its carbon neutral. And it’s hyper-local. Our purchase supports the livelihood of a farmer up the road, who also raises grass fed beef that we adore. This 1880 house will have solar powered heat pumps eventually. In the meantime, every log I pick up and place down, in rhythm and at pace, helps me connect with the gratitude I feel for being here.
So much feels existential these days. I suppose we are not any different from the migrants who exploited this land a hundred and fifty years ago. We know that going carbon neutral is not enough. Enough would be if we had actual carbon storage strategies. For now it may help to take the long view and zoom out far enough to understand that natural systems will eventually do their work to restore what we humans have mucked up. It took decades, but in this corner of Vermont, the forest soil water balance has been restored. Hopefully, it will stay that way.