Appreciating Wood

A friend of mine who is also a building contractor stopped by to visit about some work that he was doing for me.  I met his truck in the driveway, and as he climbed out of the cab, he said, “I’ve got a present for you!”  As I walked around the back of his truck, I noticed a trash can filled with wood scraps from one of his worksites.  Not thinking that the trash can might actually be for me, I sarcastically yelled, “Wow!  A trash can full of wood scraps!  Now I’ve got kindling to spare for my fireplaces!”  To my surprise and genuine excitement, he said,  “Yep.  I took a bunch home with me after we had cleaned up a job, and I thought you might be able to use some, too.  It’s great kindling, for sure.”

When he lugged the can off the truck bed, I noted all kinds of lengths and shapes of wood pieces, mostly pine, that had been shed from whatever construction project had been undertaken.  Some were in the shape of thin strips, perfect for lighting a fire merely by match.  Other pieces were slat-like lengths that would serve as excellent boosters to the thinner strips.  And the pieces of two-by-fours would lend their chunkier girth to encourage an all-out blaze.  I was elated to have it all!

That evening, I strolled out to the garage to pick the pieces needed for the night’s fire.  With little effort, I grabbed enough pine sufficient to probably start three fires, not just the one I had in mind.  I noted the clean pieces, how white and unblemished they appeared; the stuff  seemed almost too good to burn, but it was scrap, after all.  As I loaded the kindling into the fireplace, I began to think about how accessible all of this had been, how conveniently it had appeared in my driveway, its availability.  But it reminded me of kitchen fires I  experience during my travels in Nicaragua, and how the women and children in the rural sectors of that country can be observed day and night hauling whatever branches, sticks or other combustible fuel they can find along the roads and in the thickness of the roadside woods.

Once again I am reminded of the enormous disparity that exists between those of us for whom few things in life are missing, and those for whom even the discovery of sticks, branches and dead tree limbs is a life blessing.  And it is within this realization, this understanding that what might be commonplace for me can be of far greater value to someone else, that I have re-discovered and re-energized a sense of wonder in the smallest and most mundane of things.

Such awakening caught me by surprise; that’s not uncommon for lessons learned in Nicaragua.  I had not expected rural Nicaraguans to teach me the value of simple things; I felt that I already possessed such sensitivity.  I did not anticipate a sharpening clarity of my senses to the point of loving wood, feeling gratitude for its utility and reverence for its value.  I did not imagine a trash can of pine scraps to be a gift of hearth and home and evening comfort.  But I received all of that and more.

As that weekend came to a close, I wrote a short note of thanks to my contractor/benefactor and told him about my surprising epiphany of wood.  He wrote back with a sad and rather desperate truth: “It is strange how (rich) we wealthy North Americanos are in so many ways. And we don’t even know it….”





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