When force of nature becomes force for change

By Carol Ryczek Editor-in-chief

It is not a gentle process, making wood.

“Making wood” is technically not the right term. Trees make wood, and we make firewood, taking chunks of what used to be a forest and converting them into pieces that fit in a stove.

The process involves a loud motor pushing a heavy, hydraulic-powered blade through 2-foot sections of oak or maple or, if you are very unlucky, cottonwood.

We were reminded of the satisfaction of making wood when we rented a splitter this weekend and converted a large pile of logs, each roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, to pieces that can be grabbed with one hand.

The splitter works by making a heavy blade, the irresistible force, meet the log. The log, which had felt like a nearly unmovable object, moves catastrophically and splits into pieces.

The pieces often do not break gracefully.

They groan and shift, splintering, shattering, releasing a shower of sawdust or bits of bark or lumps of insect nests. They force of the blade yields patterns and colors you’ll never see if the tree is alive. Some logs split in beautiful straight columns. Some break into layered pieces as beautiful as smooth layers of sandstone.

The logs also hide secrets of the tree’s past life. Small holes indicate bugs; larger holes, woodpeckers chasing them.

Straight, even logs that split easily have few hidden surprises. Even these can have tendrils that connect them even after being subjected to the splitter. Pieces of pliable wood fiber hang on, as if they were trying to hold the log together.

The splitter has physics on its side, and eventually every piece can be torn apart. After decades of growth and strength, we reduced trees to firewood by lifting logs and pressing a lever. Splitting, it seems, is easy.

There are exceptions. Some of the logs had hidden branches. These are branches that are completely contained within the log, invisible from the outside. After they formed — sometimes at 90 degree angles to the truck, the tree grew around them.

They are a nightmare to split.

It occurred to me, right around log 477 (perhaps that is a slight exaggeration) that the unexpected branches, the whorls and burls and unexpected shapes were what kept the logs from splitting easily.

Wood cutting was supposed to be a respite from the daily deluge of political discussion. And yet, out in the yard, we could see the entire system playing out in each piece we cut.

Splitting is easy. Anyone armed with the right tools can tear the country apart as easily as we split oak. No community is so perfect, so impenetrable, that it can hold off the right combination of forces. You don’t have to be bigger or stronger to break things up. You just have to have the tools and the desire.

 The tools can be words. The blade can be insinuations, or mockery. The power can be disenfranchisement. For four years, the division has started at the top and spilled into every corner of life. Splitting is easy when you have the right tools.

Splitting is easy when you have the right tools.

What we don’t expect is the resistance from within the very pieces we are trying to divide.

The curve, the branch that doesn’t belong, the scar that healed over — these make it hard for the splitter to do its work. They make the wood shift in unexpected angles. The things that choke the splitter in our communities are often hidden, but they are there. These are diverse ideas, respectful disagreements or a humble question that one asks without knowing the answer in advance.

A respect for diverse points of view clogs up the community splitters the same way that the 90-degree branch slowed down our wood-making. We may not even notice how the impact until it gets in the way of the ones who want to divide us. Like the unexpected hidden branch, the things that make us different are also the things that keep us together.

An election is coming, and we are a national community that has discovered how easy it is to be split. We can also remember that each of us has the opportunity to be the one stray branch, the one unexpected obstacle in the process to divide.

We have an opportunity to be — if only for a moment in time — the immovable object that keeps all of us from splitting apart.

Stay warm, and vote.



Carol Ryczek is editor-in-chief of the Shawano Leader, Wittenberg Enterprise & Birnamwood News and Oconto County Times Herald. Readers can contact her at cryczek@newmedia-wi.com.