Written on March 11, 2022

The Woodcutter and the Water Bucket

There once was a woodcutter who lived in a meadow by a large forest. A beautiful stream ran through the meadow and the water from it powered a small sawmill. The woodcutter used the sawmill to cut logs from the nearby forest into beams. The work kept him busy and he was happy to create something of utility and value.

Nearby, on a mountain whose slopes rose from the woodcutter’s meadow, there was a tower. Located at the very peak of the mountain, the tower was made of brick and very tall. From the top, one could see all around it and far into the distance. A crew of bricklayers worked tirelessly there to raise the tower ever higher. One-by-one, they added bricks to the top, while also knocking out flawed bricks from sections they had built before. From the top, one could see other towers being built on nearby mountains and it was important that this tower always be taller than the other towers. This tower needed to be the tallest.

Ensuring that enough bricks were available every day for the workers was a struggle, and because of the urgency of the work, sometimes mistakes were made in laying a new course of bricks. Generally, the flaw wasn’t discovered until a few other courses had been laid above it and careful planning was needed to remove the bad bricks without destabilizing the tower, or making it shorter. Because, it was important that the tower stay taller than the other towers.

The woodcutter had an important job, which was to supply the beams used to support each floor in the tower. Every afternoon, he would hitch a sled to his donkey, load the beams that he had cut that morning onto it, and then drag them to the top of the mountain. It was a routine that he and his donkey had become used to, and while the sled was somewhat inefficient, the workers at the top of the mountain always seemed happy to see him. One afternoon though, just as he was about to go back down the mountain, the chief bricklayer came to him.

“Woodcutter!”, the chief said, “The bricklayers are doing hot and dusty work here, and there is never enough water for them. You work with water - your very mill depends on it! Deliver us water instead of beams.” And saying that, he handed the woodcutter a wooden bucket. “More water will help the bricklayers lay more bricks, which will make the tower grow faster and we all know that the tower must stay taller than the other towers”. With that, the chief bricklayer left and the woodcutter was now a water boy.

Part 2, The Bucket

The woodcutter thought about this as he held the bucket and rode the donkey down the mountain to his mill. Although he was a simple man, he had worked hard to learn his craft. He had apprenticed with a crochety old sawyer, in the next town over, who smelled bad and insulted him when he forgot something or made a mistake. There, he had learned the art of setting teeth on the large saws to keep them from binding in wet wood and how to listen to the sound of the blade as it cut for signs of vibration or other problems. And while he knew that being a woodcutter was not a trade that would ever make him rich, his needs were simple as well and he was happy. Being a water boy was something new and felt uncertain, but he knew the importance of keeping the tower taller than all the others, so he resolved to do his best.

The next day, the woodcutter stopped the mill wheel that powered his saw and picked up the bucket the chief bricklayer had given him. He noticed that the bottom of the bucket was full of worm holes, but that otherwise it was an unremarkable bucket in every way. He went to the stream, filled the bucket, and walked up the mountain. And he did it again, and again, and again. After about a dozen trips, the woodcutter sat down to rest and think a bit.

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