Molly Fisk: Menopause & Woodpile

15456901769_ec21eaabdf_zPhoto by Ervins Strauhmanis via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

It’s 3 in the morning and I’m sitting in the comfortable chair in my living room watching an oak log flame up through the glass door of the wood stove. I don’t sleep through the night any more, which is apparently a new twist on the delights and fascinations of approaching menopause. I wake up in pitch dark and it takes a couple of hours for me to get to sleep again.

At the moment, this is wrecking my life, since I’m an early riser. You can’t, or I can’t anyway, be up from 3 to 5 and then catch an hour’s sleep and function very well. What my body wants is to sleep from 5 to about 8 and then wake up, but by that time I’ve missed watching light gild the trees in my yard and also not taken a walk or talked to the friends I’ve trained over many years to call me early in the morning. All day long I feel crabby and late and think I’ll never catch up to the rest of the world. Like other aspects of menopause, I suppose I’ll get used to this too, but I haven’t yet.

3 a.m. is, on the other hand, the perfect time to restoke the fire. My house is heated by wood, although I have an obnoxiously loud wall heater for back-up if I go out of town or get the flu or something. I make a big fire before I go to bed, which heats the house pretty well until 2 or 3. I’ve taught myself to wake up for 5 minutes, throw another log on the coals, and fall back to sleep immediately. The house then stays warm enough until morning, and I stay asleep, or used to, my dreams turning toward tropical islands instead of polar crossings.

But now I get up and sit in front of the stove wide awake, wondering what an essentially city-raised person like me is doing heating her house with wood, anyway? Don’t some people have heat that comes up through vents in the floor, very quietly? I think I read too much Laura Ingalls Wilder as a child and developed romantic notions about physical work. It’s surprising how fast those disappear in middle age.

I do like the look of stacked wood, and I like to chop kindling with my small axe, but not quite as much as I’m required to do it. I don’t fell my own trees, thank God. I buy two cords of stove wood every August from a Mexican guy named Pete. But I do a lot of hauling in a red wheel barrow from the woodpile up to my front door, and then I fill the wood box inside every day or so. I am constantly emptying the ashes out of the stove into a bucket and thence to my compost pile or driveway. It’s steady, necessary work, which is good for me I’m sure, even, or perhaps especially, when I don’t want to do it — a regular and essential lesson in self-sufficiency and devotion.

I’ve always been a little mulish about practical things. Identified with the grasshopper instead of the ants. Maybe using this wood stove is my better self’s method of reminding me to grow up. (Better late than never. . .) Jack Kornfield titled one of his Zen books, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.

In my case it’s After Insomnia, the Woodpile.


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  • Maria Jasmine Freeman February 10, 2016 at 7:37 am

    Can we enclose a picture related to the topic of a woman’s state in menopause?!

  • Maria Jasmine Freeman February 10, 2016 at 6:55 am

    I love all what you wrote. I have been in your shoes of insomnia at hot flashes, for already thirteen years. I had my own stove in my brain, which made my brutal awakenings in excruciating pain; luckily i am markedly improved now. I love your captivating style of writing, and your strong resolve which i needed too in my odyssey with menopause. I also dissipated my long wakefulnes hours into words; perhaps this is one benefit of pain and pains in menopause.
    Maria Jasmine Freeman

  • Molly Fisk February 7, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    Thanks, Mickey and Dr. Pat!

  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD February 6, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    Dear Molly,

    I had a friend once who told me that when she woke up, as you are doing at 3 am, she always a heard a deep male voice speak to her with the same message, “I have been waiting for you to wake up. There are some really important things we need to talk about”. She understood, over time, that when she was in a period of transition or had unresolved problems, that the wake up call at 3 am was an opportunity to take a pad and pencil and make notes about the conversation with the One In The Room. She grew to welcome, not dread, his voice when these early calls woke her up. Of course, hot flashes and night sweats do wake some women up. And, finding a way back to sleep after the wake up takes time and practice and sometimes a dusting of medical help, unless you are in a time of transition and need some utter quiet to work on a plan.
    We love your essays, Molly, and are so grateful for your part in the WVFC family.

    Dr. Pat

  • Mickey February 6, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    God bless you, Molly. I recognize your sleep pattern which is what I’ve been doing for years and I’m years past menopause. The wood stove and all the periphery hard work, not so much. Thank you, love your writing.