I’ve built at least a hundred wood stove fires in my life, but last night the gift of heat was elusive for some reason. It took me three tries and a minor hand injury to produce a result, and there was swearing involved. In some way, this single event neatly captures a basic emotional cycle I’ve been through dozen of times as I navigate my way through projects I’ve never attempted before: frustration, overwhelm, and swearing, followed eventually with satisfaction and increased capacity through persistence.
As I lay down at nearly 1am and let the heat soak into me, I felt my mood peaking. The temperature was perfect, the bed frame I built was sturdy, the mattress on top firm yet comfortable. Surrounding me was a large portion of the handiwork produced through my cycles of struggle and accomplishment: an insulated deck, built from wood cut and milled on the land, my yome (an insulated tent like a yurt) firmly affixed atop it, the fire burning in a stove resting on my handmade brick hearth.
For some reason I was reminded of laying in front of my grandparent’s fireplace at their home in the mountains. I have vivid memories of falling asleep there, age 9 or 10, feeling as safe as I’ve ever felt in my life. I’m still trying to integrate the echo of that experience this morning, having created the same feeling of home and safety largely by my own hand.
Today marks six months since I arrived in Maine in my attempt to homestead. A lot of my time here has been ‘head down’, focusing on the immediate next task in a long series of tasks required to create a basic place to live. A friend of mine refers to this flavor of experience as being ‘in the tank’ – closing the lid on the outside world, even on your own larger perspective, to bring focus to some future aspiration. In this state there is no place for assessing if the goal even makes sense – there is just doing, which is why it’s necessary open the lid every once in awhile, poke your head out, and ask “is what I’ve set myself to do even worth doing any more?”
It might be possible to both hold onto a larger perspective and drill into massive action, but that would not work for me. If I asked myself every single day “is this still worth doing?”, at the level I’m challenging myself, I would quit.
I have to create the illusion of certainty, to cut off any thinking or decision, to fly blindly in the current direction.
This has the added bonus of creating moments of surprise, where I spontaneously pop into a larger perspective and notice the massive change and movement from the last time I looked.
A good example is the deck I built. It took me weeks of working in hot conditions, in awkward positions on uneven surfaces with heavy wood, to assemble the individual pieces. At the end of that process I still had nothing of real value, just seven huge wood triangles leaning against a tree. It produced very little satisfaction or sense of progress.
It was only after more weeks of laying the foundation, placing the individual pieces, spraying the insulation and installing the subfloor that I was afforded the magical moment of laying on the completed deck and really appreciating how much had changed.
These moments are immensely satisfying, are not entirely under my control, and provide precious fuel for the next leg of the journey that feels like an endless slog.