01 March 2008


The oak stood 85 feet tall, older than anyone in town, had been growing alongside the house for time out of mind. It had to be removed. Would we want the wood? Sure.

So it was that my husband and I spent several days last fall cutting, rolling, stacking huge logs. We later returned with a log splitter. With a long trailer last month.

Marvelous things, log splitters. Roll the log under, stand it up, hold it fast, drop the lever, watch the maul chomp down, hear the wood crack, see it split, make sure a chunk breaks loose, bump the lever up, watch the maul lift, stop its rise. Turn the log, repeat. Split and split until the pieces will fit into the wood stove. Steady work. 

What amazes me is the number of solid-looking logs that house insects. We uncover sluggish colonies of black ants with a few winged queenly-looking members, smaller groups of big carpenter ants. A colony of winged ants. Black beetles. Brown ones. Wee white worms that bore wire-thin tunnels. White corkscrew worms—I imagine they twist and turn their way through the world. Then—and “hyre be monsters”—a den of gargantuan black beetles. 

However, most dramatic are also the first found: huge white grubs with orange-yellow faces and greasy grey butts. Godzilla-like cousins of the dainty cutworms I find in garden soil. These are coiled under the bark, encased in powdery mulch-like sawdust. I save the first one we find, determined to winter it in our basement, see what develops come spring. 

At first they are a novelty. By late in the day I’ve seen so many of these terrors they lose their power to amaze. When one falls out beside the splitter I don’t bother to move it. A few minutes later white gut grits spackle the ground. 

I came out to myself as a gay man 13 years ago this month. At the time I was snuggled in a sawdust of my own making, married to a woman, every day father to three young children, working for a conservative religious-based organization. Coming out, I lost marriage, children, job. My world was mauled open. I imagined my guts spattered the walls. Indeed, prolonged custody hearings put on public display certain greasy grubs hidden in my character.

I continue to learn that I am riddled with hidden recesses in which lurk unknown energies—some twisted, some beetle-black, some bearing queen energy, some in the process of becoming. Becoming what, that’s the question. With the poet Czeslaw Milosz, I wonder, 

Will it be a bright butterfly soaring over the earth,

Or a moth, dirty tribe of night?

Won’t be long now before the behemoth slumbering in our basement arises. Time, that natural ally of change and transformation, will play its part. So, too, the warming rays of the sun. Given the bottomless basement of the human heart, what might unfurl its wings this year in me? In you?

This essay first appeared in The Letter, March 2008

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