Splitting a Knot

By Greg Baer M.D.

March 12, 2018

Over the years, I have burned a great deal of firewood. On occasion I’ve cut living trees down that were in danger of falling on a building, for example, but mostly I use trees that someone else has cut down, or those that been blown over in a storm.

When creating firewood, the first step with a tree on the ground is to cut away all the small branches not suitable for making logs. Then I cut the tree into logs the length of a fireplace, usually keeping only those that are three inches or greater in diameter. Some trees are very big, four feet and more in diameter, and those logs have to be split lengthwise into many pieces, so they’ll be a manageable size to burn on a fire.

I’ve split many thousand logs, and I’ve learned that knots in the wood make the work far more difficult—sometimes impossible. Where do knots come from? As a tree grows, branches develop to enable the tree to grow more leaves for gathering sunshine for photosynthesis. At the place where a branch grows, its fibers weave together with the fibers of the main trunk so profusely and thoroughly that the branching places become stronger than a piece of the trunk of the same size would be.

Sometimes the growth of the trunk outpaces the growth of a branch and kills it. Sometimes disease, lack of sunlight, pruning, and other causes eliminate a branch. Whatever the cause, the place where the branch initially began is a knot of tightly twisted fibers—which is almost impossible to split. A large log without a knot always—with few exceptions—can be split, whereas much smaller logs with one or more knots can be very problematic.

Knots, in fact, make splitting wood so difficult that if I have to hit a given log significantly harder—or more times—than I would have predicted, I can always find a knot that was invisible from the outside. Knots can originate with a branch that developed when the tree was young, but then it disappears from view as the trunk grows over the place where the branch fell off long ago.

We all have knots. We all have pain, fear, and behaviors that make love and relationships impossible in given moments. What can we do?

  • Sometimes we just need to keep going, and we can make our way through the knot.
  • Sometimes we need external help, like from a friend or coach or God.
  • We might need to just live with that knot, throwing it on the fire without splitting it to a more manageable size.
  • In rare cases—severe mental illness, a toxic environment that we can’t see a way out of, or wounds so deep that they’ll never heal—the knot may make happiness and healthy relationships impossible, at least in this lifetime.

We can’t expect our lives to be uniform or easy. Sometimes we’ll encounter knots—just like in splitting a log—that will require considerable adjustment on our part.

It’s the knots that teach and strengthen us the most. We need not fear them.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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