FORT KENT, Maine — It seems my most recent column “Northern Maine rich: Where wealth of wood beats money in the bank” struck a chord with readers.
Or, would that be “cord?”
Either way, I really should not be surprised at the depth of passion Mainers have regarding their winter supply of woody heating fuel.
Arguments and debates may wage in front of roaring fires all winter over the merits of beech versus maple or birch versus ash (no one, it turns out, is a fan of poplar).
These conversations often spin off into what makes the best kindling? How best to even start a fire in the first place?
My friend and neighbor Alan is often appalled at my own fire starting skills.
But let me say right off the bat — it works. Most of the time, that is.
Here at Rusty Metal Farm, fires in the wood furnace begin with wadded up newspaper, a lot of wadded up newspaper. Often, an entire edition.
And yes, I am well aware of the irony that the same publication which supplies my paycheck also supplies my fire base layer.
Next comes kindling. Lots and lots of kindling.
The best year I ever had making fires was the winter after I had the house re-shingled. The project left me with a massive pile of 20-year-old cedar shingles which, if even shown a match, would burst into flames.
Other years a trip to the local lumber yard yielded a truck load of scrap wood that would split into lovely kindling.
Once the kindling is piled on, I strike a match, touch it to the paper, open the flue and watch the paper burn, half the time leaving the wood unscathed.
This normally happens any morning I am in a hurry to get out of the house.
I repeat the steps several times, blowing on embers in between, and eventually an anemic little flame appears which I slowly, like a new mother, nurture to life.
Alan, on the other hand, has time and time again demonstrated his method of using what amounts to a square inch of paper, several small sticks and a match to produce a roaring conflagration within seconds.
Nevertheless, each day I do manage to get a fire going that keeps the house toasty warm.
And each day I take a moment to admire those stacks of wood in the cellar.
Yes, “stacks,” plural.
This year the wood supply overflowed from the wood room into my basement and the basement under my father’s addition.
According to a handy online calculator at http://www.maine.gov/ag/firewood.html, there are about seven cords stashed away down there, and this does not count what remains outside that could not fit anywhere downstairs.
Given that I normally go through around five cords over the winter, I obviously have a bit of a surplus on hand, or, as one reader put it, a good jump on next year.
OK, so maybe I went a tad overboard and, once again gave in to a full blown firewood panic.
This would explain why, back in August, I ordered an additional two cords to supplement what my friend and regular woodcutter Bob had sawed up for me.
“How much land do you own?” the wood delivery fellow asked when he drove up and surveyed the acres of timber on Rusty Metal Farm.
But, the good news is, I am not alone.
After my last column ran, I heard from a friend who several years ago moved from northern Maine to the downeast area:
“As we burn about four cords during our blissful winters in central Maine, I was thrilled when [my husband] built a woodshed which holds eight cords,” wrote my friend. “Great — rotation will be simple. All of a sudden there was metal roofing put under the eight-foot high deck and two-plus cords fit under there. Then, there were those hardwoods which were too close to the garage so down they came. Well, now there’s a four cord ‘addition’ on the woodshed accommodating a total of 12 cords. I think he’s brought a lot of his County survival needs with him. And all I asked for was some simple shutters for the windows be built. Maybe next spring.”
Another reader shared her own wood love affair story:
“We have a big old 150-year-old farmhouse and have an insert in the kitchen fireplace. We burn about five cords every winter,” she wrote. “Fortunately we have a lady who piles it in the spring when it’s delivered and then it’s up to my husband and I to haul it into the shed in the fall. We finally got it all in last weekend and discovered as we get older we have to take a lot more breaks. But he stands in the kitchen door — looks into the shed with all that wood in and just smiles. Such a feeling of accomplishment.”
Another reader from California sent photos showing first a massive pile of firewood and then a shot of it piled in neat, tidy rows.
Firewood can also be therapeutic, according to a friend of mine.
“In spring of 2009, I found myself suddenly living alone and know I would need wood for the following winter,” she told me. “I called around and found a good price and one day I came home to find two cords of beautiful oak, maple and beech dumped in my driveway. It was split and cut in 20-inch lengths, green as the day it was cut.”
My friend then said she spent the next three evenings meticulously stacking that very heavy wood.
“I first [built] up four square towers to support the stacks and then filling in neatly between them,” she said. “It was good, quiet, hard work and very therapeutic. It gave me a great feeling of security and independence to drive in the dooryard and see those stacks of wood, knowing they’d be keeping me warm later.”
Of course, she did end up ordering additional, seasoned wood since the original order was so green, it was a year before she could burn it.
Comments under the column featured descriptions of wood piles and the feeling of security that comes with a full shed of wood.
For every person who burns wood all winter, there is a story or anecdote about cutting, gathering, splitting and stacking.
And when better to share those tales than over a crackling fire in the midst of a cold, dark Maine winter?
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.