Once again, the cabin has worked its magic and endowed me with a contemplative moment. This time, the magic was no illusion. Just a wonderful, contemplative moment in time.
Franklin Stove at the Family Cabin © MJ Logan 2016
It seems that lately there are too few contemplative moments. Those times when the number of endlessly nagging thoughts subside to a few, and then to none, and then my mind drifts into what one speaker called, “The Nothing Box”. That rarely lasts for a few seconds because it is then that I begin to think about my writing.
It is, at that point, not at all about plots or content or finding the right image or formulating an outline or… Right. Nothing like those things at all.
Christmas found us in Wisconsin to visit my family. We stayed at my brother’s house which is always a joy. Church on Christmas Eve, dinner coupled with treasured traditions at another brother’s house. Christmas morning the kids opened gifts. All of this conspired to push me closer to that moment when the worries and the work disappeared from my thought process.
Saturday morning my brother packed up his family and headed off to spend a few hours with some extended family. We packed up and left for the family cabin. A daylight drive through rural Wisconsin is always a joy and I looked forward to it and found it more refreshing than I hoped. By the time we arrived, the day was long and we unloaded the car and began to organize a little.
A fire in the wood stove is one of the first things we do in the winter. Warmth is nice if you want to relax. There is a furnace that burns propane, but we supplement its heat with wood to save money and for the ambiance of the fire. Most of the wood comes from fallen trees we cut up and haul back.
Sunday morning found us essentially stranded as a certain hill was covered with ice and not yet sanded by the township. I’m not sure how we managed to stay out of the creek at the bottom on the way in, but perhaps forty-two years of driving that road played it’s part.
On rising, the chill was apparent with the thermostat set at sixty. While Mrs. Goodwife made coffee, I began to make a new fire. The task is one that I like to think I’ve mastered. Over the years I have tried and used so many methods and still to this day, will try a new one if the opportunity arises.
My chosen method that morning involved carefully made, matchstick-size slivers of dry cedar. It was in the making that my mind finally ceased to obsess and my thoughts turned to my written words. Before I move onto that, Dear Reader, let me say that arriving at that point is very difficult for me. A rare moment when absolutely nothing holds onto at least a portion of my attention.
A six-inch piece of cedar, perhaps an inch square, split from a log of the same length for kindling. In this case, I was going to use it for tinder, along with more cedar as kindling.
Hold the end against a log. Place the hatchet blade edge on the opposite end, raise both an inch or so, and tap it down onto the log. The hatchet blade sinks in about quarter inch. Continue tapping until the stick firmly grasps the wedge of the hatchet. Raise it one more time and a harder blow (still just barely more than a tap) and the hatchet cleaves the sliver from the stick.
Repeat until a small pile of slivers exists around the log.
It’s a task I’ve repeated so many times in my life that I have to envision it in order to write about it, because I no longer even think about it. Beyond automatic, natural as breathing. This was the moment when my mind went blank, and then, because it can’t just sit idle, focused on the writing.
After the return of a manuscript from a friend who read it for me with the purpose of offering critique, I had to go back and have another look. After no less than five major revisions, a cut of some sixty thousand words (yes, I am verbose at times) and some rearranging, I wanted to take it to print.
Alas, she deftly and succinctly pointed out that it wasn’t quite ready. Why? Several reasons. A certain style I sometimes fall into when I’ve been writing for too long without a break. Further, the rearranging and stitching and melding and merging of parts left the beginning stilted, and the ending a bit too passive. Places where I took long pieces of dialog and condensed them into much shorter and much more interesting paragraphs required additional polishing. A newscast monologue used too many times.
It was these things that found their way into the “Nothing Box” and filled my brain with the wonderfully pleasant process of analyzing them and looking at them from an entirely new light.
With nary a pause in the thinking or the splitting, the matchstick slivers were arranged in a neat little tepee shape. Larger pieces of cedar arranged over and around them. Then even larger pieces of kindling. Finally, two pieces of hardwood maple. A single, strike-anywhere kitchen match flared when struck, was held to the tepee of slivers. The flame caught and leaped to life. In mere seconds, the contemplative-inducing work was engulfed in growing flames. They ignited the smaller kindling pieces, fueled the fire and started the maple pieces burning.
I added a piece of split ash, and another of maple, and put the screen in front of the fire.
Ben Franklin really knew what he was doing when he invented this stove. I could feel the reflected heat on my legs and chest. Next to me, untouched, was the cup of coffee left by Mrs. Goodwife. I sipped and saw, in the eye of my mind, the poor constructs and the shotgun marriages of sentences. Realized the beginning needed more punch to grab the reader.
It was then I noticed the odor of smoked bacon, melding with the wisps of wood smoke that escaped the stove before the stove pipe began to draft properly.
The cabin is a good place for me. Rustic, unpretentious. Empty of all but the most basic of modern necessities except those required for a modicum of comfort. I had the laptop and later, as the wood popped in the stove and cast its heat upon the cabin, I fired it up and had a look at the manuscript. Everything that my writer friend mentioned popped out from the screen.
More importantly, the fixes were clearly evident. Without a doubt, the time for yet another revision was apparent, and the path as clear as ice-cold well water. One more time, hopefully for the last, I will endeavor to turn this piece into a work of well-written art.
Perhaps perfection is too strong a word, but like the daily pounding of keys that has nothing to do with fiction, I must strive to create the best I can muster.