Chapter 3 – The Woodcutter

And so they went. As they followed the track, Tazzwit happened to see something on the ground amidst the long grass. She bent down and picked it up. “It’s an egg!” she exclaimed, “but I’ve never seen an egg like this one before. Look, its shell is hard – you can’t break it.” She put it to her ear. “How amazing!” she exclaimed, “This egg is talking – it says ‘tick tock, tick tock’. What bird could have laid an egg like this?” “That’s not an egg,” said her brother, “I’ve heard about things like this. They call it a watch. See these hands – they go round and show what time it is.” “Where’s it come from?” she asked. “Someone probably dropped it coming from market or town,” he said. “The people who made this amazing thing must have been great scientists,” remarked Tazzwit. “surely they must be very wise and intelligent?”

Amsiggel and his sister went on through the forest until they came to a little house. It was made of wood and beside it was a pile of small logs. Amsiggel called to whoever lived there, and a man came out carrying an axe on his shoulder. When he saw them, he put the axe down and greeted them. He brought some water for them to drink. They spoke for a while about the trees and the firewood and then Amsiggel asked the Woodcutter, “Do you live alone in this forest?” “Not at all!” he replied, “I have my friends here – the fox and the mice and the storks.” “Do you talk with these friends of yours?” asked Tazzwit. “Oh no,” he replied, “We’re all too busy with our work. See, the ants, the honeybees, the birds, how they’re coming and going, fetching and carrying all the time.” “But the trees and bushes,” said Tazzwit, “they just stay where they are.” “Even the trees and bushes are busy,” he replied. “They stretch out their leaves to the sun, send down their roots to drink water beneath the soil. They make flowers and fruit. Isn’t that work? It’s only man and his domesticated animals that don’t like working.” “Well, which is most useful?” asked Amsiggel, “an ant, or a mule?” “The ant willingly carries his load,” replied the Woodcutter, “but the mule with great reluctance. The ant does what his masters say, but the mule needs his master’s stick. The ant is always running, but the mule stops still whenever his master leaves him. And if he doesn’t stand still, he’ll wander far away, and if he doesn’t wander away he’ll just eat his saddle.” They all laughed.

Then the Woodcutter said to them: “It seems to me that those who live in the forest are more intelligent than those who live in the town. We don’t read books but we read what’s written in the clouds of the heavens and the mud of the river and the bark of the trees. Listen and I’ll tell you what I’ve learned from the insects of the forest. There’s one that shines in the darkness. There’s one that spins a web. There’s one that writes with mucus on the ground. There’s even one that plays football. I asked myself, ‘Where did these insects come from? Did they just make themselves on their own, or is there Someone who made them?’”

Then Tazzwit showed him the watch which she’d found by the side of the track. “Look at this egg we found,” she said. “Weren’t those who made this amazing thing great scientists?” “They certainly knew science,” said the Woodcutter, “but there’s greater science than this in the forest. This ‘egg’ of yours isn’t like a real egg – no bird will ever hatch from it. It cannot grow and bear young. But the eggs that birds lay, they contain something greater than this one you’ve found, because each real egg contains a little bird which is alive. When the little bird hatches, it will grow and fly and sing and make its own nest and eggs. Can human beings do anything as amazing as this with their science and wisdom? Man is very intelligent, but the one who made man is wiser by far. Come on now, let’s move these logs before it rains.”

They lifted and carried the pieces of wood till all were safely brought into the shelter of the house, then they sat together in the porch. “I thought about all this,” the Woodcutter continued, “and I asked myself ‘If someone exists who made this world, what’s he like? How can I possibly know him? Where can I possibly find him? Is he somewhere here in the forest, or in the fields? Or can I fly up among the stars to search for him in the glory of Heaven?’ So I asked the sun and moon, ‘Was it you who made this world?’ They said ‘No.’ I asked the mountains and crags, ‘Is there a spirit in you that made this world?’ They said ‘No.’ I asked the sea and the rivers, ‘Is there in you some power that made this world?’ They said ‘No.’ Then I asked them all, ‘If you didn’t make this world, please show me who did make it.’ ‘There’s one greater than us.’ they said, ‘He’s not visible to the eyes of man. It’s he who made us.’ I didn’t ask them with words and it wasn’t with words that they replied, but the wisdom and beauty they were made with showed me the answer.”

Amsiggel asked, “What’s he like, the one who made all this?” “Well, when we see the moon and stars,” replied the Woodcutter, “they show us his glory. When we witness the scorching heat of the sun, the bolts of lightning striking the earth, the violent explosions of the thunder, the hurtling flood of the river in spate, they show us his power. His beauty is shown in the flowers and the leaves of the trees. His wisdom is revealed in the birds and honeybees, each doing the work he gave it to do. When we look at the crags and mountaintops we know he’s steadfast and unchanging. When we hear the birds singing we sense that his word is sweet. When we see what we human beings are like – we can see and hear and think and speak – we know that he sees and hears and thinks and speaks better than we do, because the one who creates will always be greater than what he’s created. And whenever we sit amidst all these things, we can feel his love and his peace, and our hearts are filled with praise and thanksgiving.”

It was getting dark and the Woodcutter could see they were tired. He brought them bread and olive oil, and then he gave them some blankets and showed them where to sleep. Amsiggel said to him, “I’ve never heard anything, Sir, like what you’ve told us today.” The Woodcutter replied, “Perhaps you’ve never asked someone living among the creatures of the forest.” Then Amsiggel said, “But the one who created us, what connection is there between him and us? I can see this world is like a watch, made with great wisdom. But when God created the world, did he wind it up and leave it to go by itself till it all runs down? Or does he continue to keep winding it up?” The Woodcutter looked at him and said, “Sometimes I think he’s far away – that he’s turned his face from us like someone crushing ants underfoot. But sometimes I think he takes an interest in us and does good things for us. Sometimes I think he likes to help us with the problems of everyday life. But other times I think he just watches us so he can punish us for the faults he sees us commit. These are things beyond my understanding. But it’s getting late. Go to sleep now till morning.”