The first Christmas my wife Maggie and I spent, down here in Lizard Holler, was exceptionally memorable. Even though I asked her for her hand in marriage the Christmas before, this was the first we spent together as a true unified whole. Always the practical and pragmatic spirit that Maggie is, she had assumed the role of Santa Claus and gotten me one of the ultimate male toys that is essential to living, and surviving, in the woods. I found a brand “spanking” new, canary yellow Poulan chainsaw, complete with a carrying case, lounging under our Christmas tree. Maggie’s knowing smile seemed to beckon me to release my manly “lumberjack” testosterone and “fire that sucker up!” Much to my surprise, after carefully following the instructions, that “sucker” fired up on the second pull of the cord. I felt proud! “Power” was in my hands and eagerly I looked forward to pursuing the manly tasks Maggie had set before me.
Almost all new motorized machines, nowadays, are factory tested and ready for service right out of the box. Americans expect this attention to detail. Few will ever fail you when they are brand new. After attacking with a fervent vengeance all the dead limbs, trees, underbrush, and the rest of Maggie’s “honey do’s” over the next month, my new toy lay idle for a long while. One day, after an early Summer thunderstorm, a tree fell across our road, delaying our usual swift exit to work. This was the beginning of the time when my chainsaw transcended the role of machine and took on the human attributes of being a mentor…a Zen mentor.
I had read Robert M. Pirsig´s book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” many years before, but let’s just say I have slept since then. “No problem!” I spoke in a confident voice to myself. “I’ll pull out my trusty Poulan.” Oh what a warm and familiar feeling my hands encountered gripping the handle and the pistol grip. I securely placed my foot in the saddle, pumped the primer bubble, cocked the choke, and pulled the starter cord. The rest you can probably ascertain, my toy “did not” start like it had when it was new. I was, to say the least, a little disheartened. My next approach was less than a “mature” approach. Pull, pull, pull! Nothing. Okay, stop, reset all steps, and make SURE the on/off switch was on. Pull, pull, pull! Nothing. Okay, stop, reset all steps…at this point I realized “today we were going to be a little late for work.” Why not just wrap a chain around this tree and drag it off the road? Well, it was just a little TOO large for that approach.
“DAMN!” I cried out to the universe around me. “I am smarter than this!”
Pull, pull, pull! Nothing. Pull, pull, pull! Nothing. Pull, pull, pull! Nothing…It was then I first heard the voice of my new Zen master, Master Poulan. “Chef Larry, …Chef Larry. Stop. Pull yourself together! If you use the chain tool that came with your chainsaw and clean my spark plug, I will return to you your manhood.”
Laying exhausted in the middle of the dirt road, next to the fallen tree, my Chef uniform soiled, I reflected on the prudent advice that Master Poulan had given me. I obediently followed his simple instructions and just like it was Christmas day all over again, my toy started right up on the second pull of the cord.
Zen, basically meditation, is a very powerful tool in our everyday lives. No, we cannot always stop and meditate to solve our everyday crisises. Yet, Master Poulan had taught me a very valuable lesson that day. Slow down…and start afresh. Haste makes waste. I was reminded of that lesson which I had learned many years earlier in my childhood. I still allow everyday occurrences to sometimes slow my “mature” actions. Master Poulan, my new Zen master, brought back from my memory lessons that my parents had taught me along the way as a child. These lessons helped form me into the reasonably, functioning adult that I aspire to be today.
“Patience, little Larry, patience. Patience is golden.”