How I Spend My Time
It has been cold here, so cold the rounds of wood freeze where they lay, a tree in sections, on the hill.
The sunshine is yellow enough that if you didn’t catch the glimmer of the frost you might think: summer. But I layer on two wool shirts, a sweater, work gloves. I wear my kevlar-reinforced jeans– they’re thick, and I guess I don’t need them to ride on motorcycles anymore.
Axe, iron splitting wedge, and heavy maul ding against each other as I bump the gray wheelbarrow up the hill. My breath fogs the air.
The wood rounds are huge, so big I can’t lift them onto the chopping block. I strike with the sharp end of the maul, making a dent. They wobble on the soft moss and wiry stems of salal. I set the wedge.
Frozen wood wants to bounce the wedge back out. I hold it with my left and bring the maul up with my right, over and over pounding. I strike choked up on the four-foot handle, like it’s a hammer with a very heavy head.
I know I’m in when I’ve passed the frozen outside: dark moisture starts to seep up around the iron. Then I can strike at full strength, both hands sliding down the handle as I swing the long circle back, overhead, pound down. The sound rings sharp in the air.
Split rounds are still huge, but I wrestle the halves up to the low, leveled stump. On a warmer day, drier wood, I could switch to the lighter axe. On a day like today, the thin blade sticks in the stubborn wood, so it’s the blunter maul I swing down again. High notes ting out of the cold wood as fibers split. Kindling chunks fling into the bushes: firewood.
In the house, I pour dry beans into a pot of water and set it on the woodstove. I poke up the fire, turn the bowl on the hearth where dough is rising.
In my room, three cats laze– it’s the warmest place in the house. One has claimed the bed; one, the chair by the heater; the third, the top of the closet under the incandescent light. One of them looks up sleepily and licks her paw as I gather my books.
I work by Pomodoro timer: twenty-five minutes on, five off. I’m reading. Twenty-eight pages a day of Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs; four or more cycles of research on climate change. In the breaks, I make tea, stretch and fold sourdough, change the laundry.
The house is empty but for me, the cats, and robots– the laundry machine runs often with the Airbnb. I have different guests every night, three rooms rented out. They keep to themselves. I change the sheets for ghosts who muss the bed and disappear in the morning. My self-driving vacuum runs itself at ten each morning.
Some days, I make progress; I am drawn in. I’m reading a report by the California Public Utilities Commission. It outlines the technical needs they’ll have to meet state goals for renewable energy. I take notes, build out my glossary, re-publish by git commit several times in a day. Needs are opportunities– it’s a space where someone can make a difference. I write.
Some days, I can’t work still. A sadness comes and I find myself desolate, inconsolable. I cast my PDFs aside. I can’t tell if it’s the same sadness that made me need to leave, or the sadness of the leaving itself that overwhelms me.
I make a pot of tea, wrap myself in a blanket by the fire. One of the cats comes. I read and whisper fiercely to myself: I am in chrysalis.
I don’t love routine; I love woods and freedom and the way it’s okay for me to be anywhere at any time. But I do have habits I love, habits for the moment I wake: practice Swahili and then French and then Chinese. Sit up one hundred crunches. Wake my mind and then my body before I rise and make the bed. Remember to eat.
The timer makes it easier to move without reflection. It lets me dedicate time to just one thing. I must focus for another so many minutes. Chop onions in the gap time and put them in a pan on the woodstove. It could be venison chili, but it’s ewa agoyin today because I’ve decided to learn some African cuisines.
I go out, some nights. But nights I’m here are quiet. I practice piano and guitar, but I’m not up long once the sun is down. No light means dinner and bed, pie if I’ve taken the time to chop apples.
I’m careful, climbing into bed, to not disturb the cat; she’s left my blankets warm. She’s happy to see me.
I read, breathe, meditate. I fall asleep.
I originally wrote this post in February, but am posting it here now because it resonated more than I expected.
It also better begins the story of my recent travels, which begin here (Seattle to Nairobi) move through these key posts (After a Long Day of Walking, Travel Glam: A Dirtbag Manifesto, Kilifi, Restless) and ends here (North of Mombasa, Self Direction).
Next: Getting to East Africa