Don Rogers: Here’s your male energy
I feel for my footing, squeeze the trigger all the way, let it go just as a stove-length limb drops.
Daylight is going soft and golden as the saw whines and idles. Then I shut it off. The earplugs deepen the silence. My own system thrums louder than the road down the drive.
I pull and pile oak branches, reliving autumns laying cords in, throwing and stacking, a bite on the cheek, sometimes snow on the ground. Or hot summers, dust rising. Go back far enough and there’s soot, sometimes flame, or that winter along the Camino Cielo overlooking town and the ocean from 4,000 feet up as we sawed and piled, sawed and piled, stopping every couple of hours to sharpen, sweaty, laughing. We laughed a lot then.
But this is spring in the foothills with the sun finally out for a couple of days in a row, everything green. Oak — such a great, slow, hot, clean burn — is wasted down here. This wood’s precious as gold in higher country. Three down trees on the property will keep me busy a good day or two yet, and well stocked for at least a couple of years. Even if I cart a cord to my son in Truckee.
I’m in flow this evening, reading the pinch points well, coming underneath on the right branches at the right time, anticipating the heavy trunk’s roll, even getting the leafy limbs falling away clean for the next cut and the next. I work mostly from the crown toward the heavier, more dangerous branches.
My feet stay sure and my muscles remember what to do and when, even though I haven’t been in oak like this in 30 years maybe, longer? Pines and firs insist on their own rhythms and puzzles. More recent memories end with beer and the Broncos at one of our mountain town bars with my son after trolling below snow line along wet dirt roads.
This isn’t meditative, exactly. Too much concentration required even with the memories passing unbidden. But the work is singular, physical and repetitive enough to encourage something of what I imagine the monks mean by the Zen of the everyday.
I’ve been reading, and reading about, Gary Snyder lately, and this probably is where the woodcutting comes in, a classic in Zen instruction. Apparently, enlightenment isn’t all clearing minds and contemplating navels and conjuring up compassion for fly larvae.
How to put this? I’m feeling, well, manly.
I know lots of women do this work, often better than me. This isn’t about where women or men belong. But I am thinking about masculinity in the #MeToo era.
No, I don’t feel maligned or victimized somehow because some men act out like unfixed dogs. As with dogs, this mainly reflects a posturing, butt-sniffing insecurity. The stuff of adolescence if anything, not manhood. Most of us grow up.
I’m thinking more about male virtues, ideal forms, nobility. Our higher selves. We talked about this briefly in my writing group the other night, and an author after a recent reading commented on her perception of my wife’s male energy and my feminine side. No offense intended or taken. Yin-Yang. Just the truth and dissolving of made-up categories that served my parents and theirs more like straitjackets.
Snyder has become a bit of a paragon for me. Thoughtful, plainspoken for a scholar, sometimes gruff, earthy, twinkling with good humor. My dad is more Ernest Hemingway, John Wayne, Dean Martin — influences diluted in me and only traces remaining in my son, who is distinctly male in his own way and thankfully grown up. He reflects a little more of my older fire crew brothers and our Supe, a father figure to more generations by now than he cares to remember.
I smell the fresh wood chips and the saw gas, sore now where I only get sore doing this, chilled in the setting sun and my own sweat. I see my progress in the neat burn piles, the stacks of rounds, the bigger ones to split, the trunk left for later.
Someday these pieces will wind up in the woodstove. An acrid-sweet wisp of smoke will leak out with the heat as I fit a length into the fire, how we’ll all keep warm.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.