Thursday, March 20

The woodsman

There once was a man who lived in the forest. He was the most highly skilled woodcutter in all the land. He would go into the woods at dawn, and emerge at sunset, having felled more trees than anyone would think possible. He was widely known for his abilities in the forest. Younger men were envious of his abilities, and felt the need to compete. One by one, the younger lumberjacks would approach him with a challenge, and one by one, the wise woodcutter would refuse. "Once you view it as a competition, you have already lost," he would say to the overzealous youths.

He had confidence in his abilities, and had no pride to defend, so it is a mystery why, one day, he accepted the challenge from a young man.
The rules were simple. The two men would each go into different parts of the woods at dawn, and the one who had felled the most timber by dusk would be the champion.
The townspeople gathered.

The old man wasn't much at first glance. He looked like a man who had spent the majority of his 50 plus years outdoors under the sun. His skin was browned, and his flannel shirt was well-worn. Upon closer inspection, there was a certain grace to his movements. Simple things like walking, standing, and gesturing, were all done with minimum effort. His easy smile rested upon a confidence, as though he was privy to the secrets of the world.

The youth was strong, and easily outweighed the older man. The youth had clean clothes, and the hearty need to prove himself a worthy competitor, a worthy man.
The sun rose. The two men walked in opposite directions away from the crowd, into the forest.

The youth wasted no time. His axe was sharp, his muscles ready. He began swinging and chopping, felling and stacking. He worked through the morning on pure adrenaline, and he passed much of the afternoon in the same way. The youth lost all track of the day, as he put all of his strength into chopping, chopping, chopping. Time no longer mattered, and he was conscious of nothing but his task. He did not stop to eat, only to drink some water now and again. He was focused on his goal, to out-chop the old man. He didn't notice the sunset. The sound of the bony horn being blown crept into his field. This was the signal. The contest was over. His trance was broken. He set his axe down, and took note of the new blisters that were forming on his already callused hands. Taking a look at his prodigious pile of logs, he silently reassured himself that no man could have cut more timber.

The older man looked at dusk very much like he did at dawn. He had a comfortable aura of casual nonchalance. His shirt was a little dirtier, but who could tell? To him, it had been just another day in the woods.

The judges went about measuring the two piles, taking into account all of the quantities that judges do. The youth didn't need to measure anything though. Simply setting eyes on the quality of the old man's pile was enough. The youth knew he had been beaten. He couldn't quite accept defeat, though, without an explanation, without knowing the reason he had lost.

"I picked up my axe at dawn and did not set it down again until dusk. I used all of my muscle for the whole day. I was relentless. Mine was not a slow pace. Tell me please, how could you possibly have outdone me?" The youth was more hurt than angry as he explained his case.

"If you really want to know," the older man began, "I'll tell you how I spent my day. This morning, like any other morning, I had a good breakfast. I took some time to stretch as I was getting out of bed. I kissed my wife, and told her I loved her as I left the house. When I walked into the forest, my axe was sharp, and so was my mind. I did not begin right away, but took a minute to enjoy the dawn. While I was looking around the woods, it became very clear to me exactly which trees needed to be cut down. I didn't go after the biggest trees in the woods. I did the forest's work, and felled the trees that were ready to go. I saved a lot of effort in that way. Around midday, I stopped in the shade to eat the sandwich my wife sent with me. This rest allowed me time to cool down, recharge my old muscles, and to again survey the land, observing which trees wanted to leave the woods today. The afternoon was spent much the same way as the morning. I saved a lot of the heavy lifting and stacking for the evening, when the sun was lower. Most of all I enjoyed myself."

Perhaps the youth couldn't understand what he was being told. Perhaps he refused to. He pressed the old man, "You make it sound as if you did more work than I, and with free time to spare?! Surely you must have some trick up your sleeve."

"Oh," the old man almost forgot, "every time I cut down a tree, I sit on its stump for a quick rest. While I am catching my breathe, I take a moment to appreciate the sacrifice it just made, enjoy my accomplishment, and sharpen my axe."


(jeremy) said...

(I heard this story from rebecca, who heard it from an old man. I embellished it of course, but it's message is still there)

suzette said...

It's a beautiful story Jeremy. Tell Rebecca I said thank you for sharing it-that girl is a gift. :-)

I put all my heartfelt words to you in my email, but will just repeat a part of it here...."May your axe always be sharp, and your eyes and heart open."