Shift Happens

March 26, 2020

(This post was originally written Feb. 19, 2020, prior to major COVID-19 action in the USA)

It’s funny how quickly life can turn based on a moment of awareness or a comment made in a seemingly mundane and unremarkable conversation. If you said to me 6 months ago that I was going to get a truck, learn the art of milling wood on a saw mill, and deliver firewood to friends and family, I would almost certainly have laughed it off. Yet, that’s exactly what happened. 

2 years ago when I made the decision to go car-free, I calculated the savings that were possible and I actually exceeded this by quite a bit. At the time, my life was primarily conducted in the city within biking distance to most everything I did. The occasional trip out of town was easily handled through car rentals. I lament that I barely used Zipcar. It just wasn’t economical for the types of trips I was taking. 

Back in the Fall of 2019, I began a process of deepening my commitment as a fire keeper at a sweat lodge community I’ve been a part of for 8 years up near the Cohutta Wilderness in the north Georgia mountains. Every full moon, we gather in ceremony to awaken, heal, honor our ancestors, and develop courage, strength, stamina and endurance that will serve us out in the world in these times of great uncertainty. It’s an ancient native spiritual practice that has been passed on through the ages, and it’s the most potent expression of love and appreciation I’ve ever experienced. 

Stone Peoples Lodge Grounds

Working with fire by definition means working with wood. I found myself going deep on the topic of firewood sourcing. Where does it come from? How does it get to the final point of use? What are the economics involved? 

For those fortunate enough to live on land with ample timber, all of this may sound pretty simple – you get the wood from the land, then cut it and split it yourself. However, for most people, someone else is doing a lot of that work to provide firewood you can use to heat your home, create ambiance, etc. Some restaurants (and indeed vast numbers of people globally) also use firewood to cook their food. After all, fire’s 2 primary uses since it was discovered are cooking and heating, often both at the same time. 

To make a long and meandering story short(ish), one day on my way to a lodge ceremony, I passed by a clear cut piece of land with discarded logs piled up around the barren fields. Something triggered when I saw that sight. I found myself thinking: we need to go and get that wood to use during sweat lodges. A couple of phone calls later, we got in touch with the owner of the land who told us to take what we wanted before they burned the piles onsite. 

Piles of waste wood – this is a tiny percentage of what was there.

This sparked an almost obsessive desire to save as much of that wood as possible before it was wasted completely. My efforts led me to operating a chainsaw for the first time in my life (I now have 3), and learning to split logs with an axe as well as with a hydronic splitter. 3 trailer loads of wood were rescued in all. A drop in the bucket for sure. 

At this point, my focus was solely on being of service to the sweat lodge community. Shortly after that, I awakened to a much deeper opportunity through a happenstance conversation with my cousin Whitney, who makes furniture out of local reclaimed wood in Atlanta.  When I explained my quest to use this vast supply of wood for ceremonies, he clued me in on how many resources lay dormant on his property, and how much potential there was to utilize a consistent supply of wood from local trees that might otherwise end up in a landfill. 

A landfill. 

Logs from a local tree service waiting for disposal. I saved a few before the pile was picked up and hauled off. Piles like this accumulate every week.

That’s where the conversation truly took a hard turn. The thought of trees being sent to a landfill almost made me crazy! How could such a tremendous resource be wasted like this? Put simply, it’s often easier and cheaper for tree companies to dispose of downed trees this way in lieu of alternative methods. 

I’ve spent the past 12 years of my life contemplating resource use and the systems that prop up wasteful industries. I suppose I’m primed to hear about opportunities to reduce waste and dial into conversations about supply chains and sustainability therein. I’ve spent 8 years lobbying for carbon pricing legislation in DC that would provide a market signal that fossil fuels have unintended, externalized costs and are far less economical than they appear to be.  

Crusading for a new energy paradigm is exhausting to say the least. Holding the awareness of what we are doing to the planet and still functioning day-to-day can be difficult. I sometimes withdraw and ponder what is likely to go down in my lifetime. It can get quite dark, honestly. 

That’s where ceremony comes in. A continual spiritual practice where love and gratitude are central helps keep me tuned into doing the best I can with what I have to offer during my brief earth walk. How can I make the most of it and be of most service while I’m here? This is the driving thrust of my journey now. 

Sweat Lodge Fire

There’s an admission I needed to make to take the next step. The efforts globally to turn the corner on fossil fuel use and habitat destruction have not produced results in the timeframes necessary to avoid substantial disruption in the biosphere. For whatever reason, we don’t seem to grasp that destroying our environment is like racing as fast as possible toward a giant cliff. I believe that we will eventually make the turn, yet it is increasingly likely that it will be the result of massive disruption and global unrest. Simply put, it’s not going to be pretty.

None of this is to say that I’ve given up. To the contrary, I now see more than ever the importance of community and respect for the land and water that sustains us. My vision has shifted toward learning how to live a simpler life and tuning into earth’s natural rhythms. I’m looking forward to acquiring a piece of land that can be a respite for those who seek this deeper connection and wish to tune into these rhythms as well.

This year, I plan to sell my loft in Cabbagetown – my home of 18 years, and begin this new chapter in earnest. While I will still consider Cabbagetown my home and stay in my friend’s house 1 block away, the famous John Muir quote “The mountains are calling and I must go” certainly applies. I’m ready to understand what it means to live on the land and connect with the process of building things, growing food, and being respectful of the resources used to live and love life. 

Tower Loft Exterior

I don’t intend to abandon the city at this point, and I’ll continue to participate in both local and global efforts to shift our collective path toward a more sustainable existence. I will also keep holding space for a brighter future for humanity through ceremony, community building, and the like – hopefully more so with this intention being held closer. 

The biggest difference in my path, as I see it now, is that being in the woods, just as I was as a kid, will be central to my life – not something I experience on occasion. It feels like I may finally be coming back full circle to a path I saw back in 1993 – working in the forest and helping others have experiences in the forest. 

Working with trees in an urban environment as a way of bridging into this new future somehow seems like a perfect fit. Tuning into this conversation has been one of the greatest gifts of my life, and I feel much lighter and happier when I’m in this mode. As time goes on, I expect this will be more and more prominent in my journey as the older aspects of my life, including my business, take a back seat to what is fundamental to my experience of being human. 

I don’t know how this will all happen – I just know a shift is underway, and there’s no going back. 

I’ve thought a good bit about the dissonance with enjoying car-free life yet now leasing a truck. Ultimately, I arrived at the place where I view the truck as a utility – a tool for deepening my communion with the natural world and my spiritual community. In a perfect world, there would be an electric truck I could buy and use for this purpose. Unfortunately we are not there yet. I’m hopeful that at the end of the 3-year lease, there will be options available. In the meantime, I’ve made my peace with the fact that I’m using these resources mindfully, and in the spirit of service. 

Firewood splitting and loading in process

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Reading this post now that we are in the throes of a pandemic reinforces my decision to pursue this path. As I sit inside alone and ponder the situation we find ourselves in as a single human family, it’s harder that ever to ignore the conclusion that this was bound to happen. And it will keep happening. 

It’s up to each of us to wake up and become conscious of how we are living and the impacts our daily choices have on the rest of the planet. COVID-19 is forcing us to reckon with how interconnected we are. Whether we choose to embrace this interconnectedness and evolve accordingly is yet to be seen. 

In the meantime, please be good to each other and stay healthy. The world needs us all to awaken and step forward. 

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