Friday, January 09, 2004


This morning, as I was sitting more-and-less absently pondering the woodpile (a common and valuable woodheater activity), yesterday's gift of straw-tied firewood seemed now to glow with a special value, compared to the already firewood stacked nearby. As I sat and awaited the reason, all in its own good, slow, woody time the bundled wood finally enlightened me.

Clearly I hadn't initially given it all the thought it was worth. In my modern fastframe ergocentric take on why the wood had been thus arranged and bound, the only possible conclusion was that the woodcutter had bundled and tied it for his own convenience, or perhaps even for mine; what a punch-clock way of looking at the world!!

I had to slow down and rise quite a bit to perceive that the woodcutter had bundled the wood thus not out of convenience, but out of respect. Even the original pile had been neatly arranged, as I recalled, and in my modern quicktake approach that aspect had at the time been invisible to me. As well rice-straw rope, the kind often used in Shinto ceremonies, had been used to tie the uniformly segmented wood into symmetrical bundles. The woodcutter had done so because he was dealing with kami.

Kami is perhaps the hardest Japanese concept to bring to blossom in the Western mind, which has only its highly strictured Godhood, under whose scripturally carte blanche auspices the trees and animals, indeed the entire earth, are here for us to overlord. The idea of kami, in contrast, puts humanity in and of the world, not above it.

This had perhaps been a particularly auspicious tree because it came from a place the cutter respected or honored in some additional way; thus the wood deserved more than to be simply cast haphazardly in a pile like mere trash. Such distinctions have all but disappeared in today's throwaway society, wherever they may have existed. There was kami in the tree that gave this wood, so there was kami in the wood, that had to be honored.

And now, as a result of that selfless time-sacrifice on the part of the farmer, there was kami in me.

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