The Rhythm of the Crosscut Saw

Day Whatever + 4

Daylight saving over. Woke up an hour early. Or was that actually the same time but earlier. Time. An invention of humankind that doesn’t have much use in lockdown, except to drag out the boredom, if you’re inclined to boredom. As a septuagenarian I’m inclined to measure life by the passing of the seasons, this being the season of lockdown, although my garden says it’s Autumn.

But if you look across the millennia you’ll see that the seasons of Plague and Pestilence have long been with us, only not as regular and predictable as Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

Today in the Coronavirus Chronicles. Musings on rhythm. No, not the rhythm family planning method. But the rhythm of lockdown. Mind you, the lockdown might require some careful family planning. It’s like living next to the railway isn’t it.

52 cars in the New World carpark this morning. A short queue. Sunday. Dairy closed. I might have been a bit early. Pharmacy closed. No cars at the petrol stations. Street signs intact. All’s well in Dannevirke.

Grandfather Fred, he who brought home the power walking war bride, was a bushman. Before and after WW1 he cut down trees for a living. He was a master of the crosscut saw. He taught me the rhythm of the crosscut saw, and the rhythm of the scythe. I was far too young to be of any use on my end of the saw, and dwarfed by the scythe, but he taught me that rhythm was the key, not muscle.

One day, when he was well into his 70’s, he arrived at my aunt’s place on his bicycle with his crosscut saw and axe, ready to help the son-in-law cut down and turn a big old tree into firewood. The uncle-in-law muttered under his breath that the old bugger would just be getting in the way, but they got to work.

At the end of the day the uncle-in-law was stuffed. Grandfather Fred had hardly raised a sweat, and he stood leaning on his crosscut saw in the middle of piles of firewood, with a wicked smile in his eye. He’d delivered to the son-in-law the same lesson he’d taught me years earlier. Rhythm, and a few other things besides.

Later I was to witness and learn the rhythm of other forms of labour. In the shearing shed, out on the fenceline, on the chain at the freezing works. Rhythm rather than muscle made the work easier and the working day flow on by. There was rhythm and harmony in the whole way our whanau shearing gang worked twelve hours a day, six days a week. But a few shearers in our gang were inclined to muscle their way through the long day. The best of them flowed through the day.

The crosscut saw and the shearing gang as metaphors for life.

There is rhythm in everything. The athlete in the zone has found her rhythm. The artist in the act of creation has found his rhythm. There is rhythm in the way of the soldier, the merchant, and the artisan. There is rhythm in the whole of life, and there is rhythm in the Void. Rhythm is everything. Disturbances in the rhythm are the source of much of the chaos in society.

We have been advised to establish routines in the lockdown. But more than that we need to find rhythm in the lockdown. The unconscious mind is hardwired to fiercely resist change and shifting from the rhythm of before COVID-19 and finding rhythm in the lockdown may not be easy for those inclined to muscle their way through life. It will not be easy for them after Lockdown either. The whole world is changing and we will need to change with it.

The pathogens are showing us that humankind is not the only musician in the band. We resisted that truth in our collective denial of climate change. There is no resisting the virus.The rhythm of our lives is being changed for us. Best we use the lockdown to find that rhythm.

An American colonel of my acquaintance once observed that I march like a drummer in a rock band.

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