June 18, 2011 § 1 Comment
I think about wood a lot. That’s because we heat our home exclusively with wood; we have two stoves, one in the living room that warms the majority of the house, and one in the kitchen upon which we cook for about eight months out of the year. The kitchen stove also has a hot water jacket installed. When the stove is running, it provides about 90% of our hot water. The hot water feels the way the prize in a box of Cracker Jack used to feel when I was six: Like something extra. Like a gift.
I like wood, and I especially like working in the woods: The whump of a tree hitting the ground and the small sadness of its demise, the way a well-tuned and finely-honed saw feels in my hands, the smell of fresh cut maple or beech. It’s a sweet smell, and it mingles with the exhaust from my chainsaw, which is also strangely sweet. It’s not a very likely combination – nature and combustion – but it never fails to affect me. When I was a boy, I would help my father gather the winter’s wood. That was 30 or more years ago. The smell was the same.
We burn nearly seven cords each year, which is too much. I wish our house were smaller and tighter; I hear stories of people who heat their homes on one or two or even three cords, and I’m jealous. Or almost so. Because there is also a part of me that thinks only two cords? That doesn’t sound like much fun.
We split by hand. I love splitting wood, and it is around this time of year, when the last of the coming winter’s wood has been split and stacked, that my body feels strongest. I have one maul that I use almost exclusively; I’ve owned it for four years, which means I’ve split nearly 30 cords of wood with it. I hope it will be with me for at least another 30 cords (or even years), because the best tools are the tools that hold stories of the tasks they’ve done. The more stories, the better the tool. The better the tool, the more stories it is allowed to help write. See how that works?
One year, we borrowed a splitter from a neighbor. I was working really fast, because our neighbor sells firewood for part of his living, and needed the splitter back. I was working too fast, and threw out my back trying to load a round of beech that must’ve weighed 100-pounds. For nearly a week, I was bedridden. Penny and the boys finished with the splitter, returned it, and bought the maul.
When our friend Jim died last month, his wife gifted us their sawmill. It is an amazing gift, made all the more so for the knowledge that it was his and that it helped to build their house. Now, it will help to build our new barn. We will load it with logs – mostly fir, but some spruce and hemlock, and the occasional pine – and we will run its blade back and forth down its long metal track. The logs will become boards. The boards will become our new barn. The barn will become a piece of our life.
I think Jim would have been pleased.