October 23, 2019
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The simple joy of a large pile of firewood

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN
Few things make this journalist happier than a load of firewood.

There is a massive pile of cut, split firewood outside my back porch at this very moment. Four cords of the nicest, seasoned wood you have ever seen.

I can’t begin to tell you how happy this makes me and I’ve been grinning like a fool ever since it arrived this past week.

It’s not an overstatement to say, when it comes to firewood, that I am a tad bit obsessed. It’s a love affair that has gone on for decades, starting when I first moved on to Rusty Metal Farm in the mid-1980s and learned the joys of heating with wood.

OK, maybe “joy” is a strong word. Because in those first years I also learned exactly how much work went into getting firewood for an upcoming heating season. As my late husband, Patrick, was fond of saying, “The best part about firewood is it heats you twice.”

Translation: You work and sweat your you-know-what off multiple times before finally throwing it in the wood furnace and tossing in a match.

Early on we chopped down, de-limbed and cut up the trees here on the farm ourselves. Well, Patrick did that part. My job was to then go into the woods and gather all of the two-foot lengths of firewood into one central pile.

Then Patrick would come along with the tractor and I’d toss the wood into the machine’s front bucket. He’d then drive the tractor to his 1950s-era dump truck he’d brought to the woodlot at some point earlier that day and dump the bucket load of wood into it.

Once the dump truck was fully loaded, off he’d go to the house with it and dump the big load of firewood near the door leading to the woodroom in our basement. When all of the wood had been moved to the house, we’d toss it into the basement where we’d stack it in neat rows, ready to provide a winter’s worth of heat.

Labor intensive? You bet. But honestly, some of the best times we spent together.

After his death in 2008, I tried to keep the firewood gathering tradition alive here on the farm, and I have, though it has evolved over the years. I knew better than to cut down trees on my own, but luckily I had friends with the skills to do so.

However, once the trees were down, I was more than ready to jump in with both feet and both hands clutching a chainsaw.

I did first in safety gear — steel toe boots to protect me from cutting my toes off, ballistic chainsaw chaps to protect me from slicing my leg off and sturdy hardhat with ear and eye protection to cushion my noggin and protect my hearing and sight. By the time I had put all this gear on, not only did I weigh a lot more, I looked and moved like the lovechild of Gumby and Darth Vader.

But I happily went out to the woodlot to “help” delimb and cut up the felled trees.

That was the intent, anyway. In reality, I spent a lot of time standing around while those who were far more experienced lumberjacks than I worked to get my chainsaw unstuck when I managed to get it jammed in the section of tree I was working on.

It didn’t take long for me to transfer from cutting to transport. No longer using the dump truck — Patrick took the secrets of starting it to his grave — I did use the tractor to load wood onto a trailer and then drive that trailer back to the house.

Then I’d get some pizza, beer and schedule a wood party to get it all tucked in down in the basement. This went on until four years or so ago when my neighbor who works in the woods offered to take over the entire operation during his off season.

Together we’d walk in the woodlot and identify which trees were destined for the furnace. He’d then cut them, haul them to the house and load them into the basement.

It had the added benefit of freeing up that time I’d otherwise spend bringing in wood. Of course, I managed to fill that time obsessing about the wood.

Would I have enough? Would it be dry enough? Would it be inside and stacked in time for winter? Would it be the right size to fit in the wood stove?

The answer to all of the above was yes.

Then last year I started looking around at all the trees on the farm. I love my trees — they serve as windbreaks, they provide habitat for a variety of species, they turn carbon into oxygen, and even when they get old and fall down or get blown down, they go back into the soil as compost.

I decided I no longer wanted to cut any down for the time being. Instead, I wanted to manage the woodlot for wildlife and bird habitat.

But I still wanted to heat with wood.

To solve this conundrum, in March I contacted a local firewood dealer and ordered four cords of wood.

It was just that easy.

The pile of wood that normally grew outside in September is now here in June. There it will sit for a month or two drying even more than it already is before I have some friends over to toss it in the basement and pile it.

Not before, of course, I order the pizza and get the beer.

There are some traditions you just don’t mess with.

 



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