Splitting Hairs

going deeper


This post is about certain transitions in my life in this, the summer of 2019. The discussion starts with our firewood pile, and moves along a winding road through competence and politics, and ending with religion.

Our Winter 2020 Firewood Pile

The picture of this post shows our firewood pile for the coming 2019-20 winter season. Just this week, I completed splitting the rounds that we’ll be burning this winter. The completed pile is about 8 feet high.

Leaving the pile open to the sun and wind throughout the summer and fall is called “seasoning” (letting the water stored in the wood to evaporate). Generally speaking, the more seasoned your firewood, the better. The most seasoned part of this pile is to the right edge of the photo. We’ll be collecting from that edge come the November rains (the image shows the past 10 years of rainfall on our land — this past winter was the second-rainiest).

So this mid-July represents a transition from this coming winter’s firewood, to firewood to be processed for future winters. For the latter, I’ll be adding the new unseasoned firewood to the pictured pile from the left (just behind the blue bin used for kindling).

As we process trees on our land — fallen trees, trees skirted for fire prevention, thinning out “volunteer” trees, etc. — the firewood pile continues to grow, but in this orderly way, so we’re not accidentally burning unseasoned wood in the winter.

Novice to Expert

The pictured pile represents another transition. It’s one from novice to incipient expert. When we moved to our place in the hills 15 years ago, I was excited about the prospect of processing our own firewood, and burning it for heat in the winter (in a high efficiency fireplace). But being a novice, I had no idea what I was doing.

After 15 years of mistakes — processing our trees in an inefficient sequence, cutting the logs into rounds with our chainsaws in a chain-dulling way, including poor quality wood types in our hardwood rounds, splitting the rounds with splitters ill-suited to the job, gathering kindling in a haphazard way, storing the firewood pile in an inconvenient location, buying solar radios poorly suited for my purpose, and on and on — I’ve finally reached a state of reasonable expertise.

Sure, I can and will improve the process in the coming years. But I feel in this summer of 2019, I’ve finally reached a “steady state” of competence on firewood processing.

I could write, if not a book about it, a useful, detailed manual.

So is that all there is to this post? Do I think you care about firewood processing? No and no.

The next transition on my mind concerns religion. But first let’s back up to politics.

My T-Shirt “Turban”

My life this past year has eased nicely into 3 “business days” in San Francisco (Tuesdays through Thursdays), followed by 4 days at home (Fridays through Mondays). I do business work from home, as needed, during the “at home” days.

But I also do physical work around our 5-acre property. Three of the acres are mow-able; the remaining two acres are a steep overgrown forest dominated by douglas fir, but also containing madrone, oak, bay laurel and maple (we process the latter for firewood).

On our land, we have orchards with dozens of young and old fruit trees (the pictured fig is the first of the season), an extended, fenced-in garden area (the pictured zucchini is the 5th of the summer), and a coop with a run for dozens of chickens.

As you might imagine, there’s endless work on this land. Processing firewood is just one among many never-ending manual-labor jobs at our place.

Given we live in the Silicon Valley area of California, the no-rain season (April through October) runs warm to hot. Doing manual work outdoors, some of which is heavy lifting work, builds up a lather of sweat.

I found out early on after we moved in that as soon as my body heats up, small bugs try to fly into my ears. As you can guess, this is quite annoying.

Now being of Mediterranean descent, my skin takes on a mildly dark olive color in the summer. So it can tolerate the steady, hot California sun. Accordingly, when working on our land, I go shirtless (also for the Vitamin D).

Putting the two together, I learned early on that when my body started sweating, and I took off my t-shirt, rather than putting it aside, I could just put it over my head to ward off the annoying bugs (like in the first of the three pictures).

But this year I added a new wrinkle. You see, I noticed that when chopping wood with my t-shirt over my head, the shirt would flop over my face upon striking a round with the splitter. This was very annoying.

So this summer, I came up with steps 2 and 3. In step 2, I tie the sleeves of the t-shirt into a knot at my forehead. In step 3, I rotate the t-shirt 180 degrees, so that the knot is now at the back of my head, at the base of my skull, and I flip the shirt back over. Now, it’s snugly wrapped over my head, covering my ears (and keeping out those nasty bugs).

A friend of mine thinks this technique of mine is ridiculous. He jokes that “the FBI will be looking for me”.

Actually, that’s where I’m taking this post. Because wearing my “t-shirt turban”, I got to thinking about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the hijab she seems always to be wearing.

[Disclosure: I love the politics of Ilhan and her fellow “squad” members. In fact, I think these women are the best thing to happen to American politics in my lifetime.]

Well, looking at that picture of Ilhan (one of many I could have chosen), it seems pretty clear the reason why she’s wearing the headdress has nothing to do with keeping those nasty bugs out of her ears, given her headdress doesn’t even fully cover the ears.

No, unlike my purely functional t-shirt head-wrap, the hijab of Ilhan is both highly stylish, and worn for cultural reasons. That is, Ilhan hails from a Somali heritage, and in that culture, women wear hijabs.

I love that in current America, the cultures of the world are finding expression in the styles of our youth. Take for example Shahid Buttar (a fellow Stanford Law grad) who is primarying Nancy Pelosi from the left in San Francisco for the 2020 elections.

Is that man-bun and extended goatee of Shahid a matter simply of personal style? Or is it a style drawn from the culture of the Pakistani tribes from which Shahid originated?

(I’m guessing the latter.)


Now just because certain people dress, even in part, according to their cultural heritage, does that mean they are religious? After all, almost all cultures across all space and time in human history have been religious.

Do some reading on Göbekli Tepe, and you might come to the same conclusion that I and others have: namely, that religion is so core to humanity that it even predates civilization.

Now, as far as I know, I was born a-religious. I won’t say “anti-religious”, although the distinction is slight. After living most of my life as an avowed atheist, I now call myself an “agnostic” instead.

The difference between the two is rather than saying “there is no god”, I now say, simply and humbly, “I don’t know”.

But reading on Göbekli Tepe has changed everything for me. Instead of seeing myself as “clear thinking”, and religious people as “deluded”, I now see my own a-religious life as the anomaly. That is, the median human can sense not only awe (I can too), but also an intelligence in the ineffable (I can’t). So when I can’t even grok the latter, the problem is with me, not with the median human.

That’s not to say I’ll be “going to church” anytime soon. It’s just to say that in this, my 56-th summer, I’ve completed the journey from “certain, arrogant atheist” to “apologizing, inadequate agnostic” — someone who can’t “tune in” to the radio signal sensed by what seems like most everybody else, at all times, going back beyond prehistory.

But it’s not only religion that I’m lacking; it’s also culture. As I said, my t-shirt head-wrap is my own design. One that suits and even delights me. But I’m fully aware that this practice might seem ridiculous to our current culture.

But, as I’ve said, I don’t grok culture. Nor religion.

My core transition? I’m now aware that the previous paragraph makes you all “normal”, and me, “abby-normal” (albeit blissfully so :)).

2 comments on “Transitions

  1. Tom
    November 11, 2019

    Hi Peter, I went to Waterloo during the same several years you played ball there. Enjoyed many a game during my time at UW, but the best two I remember were during the final 4 in the winter of 1983. Best game was against Brandon in the semis. The buzzer-beater game-winner. Absolutely fabulous. Kawhi-ish. The second was the final game. Not as exciting, but well worth watching due to the Eli Pasquale show (and I seem to recall you poking him in the eye at one point…). This all came back to me last week when I read about the death of Eli Pasquale at the age of 59 due to the dreaded cancer. Don’t know if you heard about it in your California paradise, or if it really affects you, but to me, you and Pasquale are forever linked due to that fantastic weekend of basketball.

    P.S. Very interesting reading through your blog.
    And another: Paul van Oorschot was one of my son’s professors at Carleton U.


    • peter
      November 11, 2019

      Thanks Tom. Yeah, I heard about Eli last week. Very sad. What am amazing guy as a young athlete. Beyond that game, I encountered him at national team camp. Was definitely someone to look up to back in those days.


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This entry was posted on July 22, 2019 by in health, politics.



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