I wrestled the snowplow onto the truck this morning; the wind was gusting fierce from the south, and I watched an empty five-gallon bucket skitter across the yard like a north country homestead tumbleweed. Five gallon buckets are unheralded champions of the rural life, the best damn use of plastic since the 45 rpm. Better yet, they lend a distinctly white trash charm to even the most bucolic homestead landscape, especially when they’re blown willy nilly across the yard by the encroaching cold front. I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the less patience I have with bucolic. I want to see some grit and gumption. I want to see some trash and tarnish. I want to see the exposed, flayed-open underbelly of it all. It’s so much more interesting, don’t you think?
That fuckin’ plow. It’s about 20 years old, one of the early versions of what Fisher calls “Minute Mount” and boy but wouldn’t I have loved to be a fly on the wall for the meeting from which that particular moniker emerged:
Marketing Chump: “Let’s see boys, what should we call this puppy?”
Engineering Dude: “Well, other than the fact that it takes about 20 solid minutes of knuckle bashing, back-and-forthing, creative cursing, and tool hurling to mount the damn thing, we’ve got ourselves a real good product.”
MC: “Ok, then. We’ll call it Minute Mount.”
And the room dissolves into evil cackling.
Still and all. Beats the shit out of a shovel, I know that much.
• • •
We’re into January proper, which is about the time I start eyeing the firewood and hay reserves with a calculating eye. You’d think after all these years I’d have it down cold, but there are always contingencies. For instance, this year we’re burning mostly what I like to call “grade B” firewood: I cut a patch of white birch pretty heavy last winter, as most of it was slowly rotting on the stem.
I like white birch. It’s good for an awful lot of things. The bark is amazing stuff, and the wood is nice for carving into things like bowls and Cree snow shovels and whatnot. But it’s only halfway decent firewood. That’s because it’s a bit shy in the BTU department and also because it holds a lot of moisture, thus necessitating a relatively longer drying period, which we never seem to manage. And even then, it’s prone to sputtering a bit. On the plus side, the papery, combustible nature of its bark is a thing of beauty. It’s like having built-in firestarter.
Anyway. As I get older, I’m becoming less of a firewood snob (actually, the older I get, the lower my overall standard of living seems to be sinking, which is perhaps a topic for another day). Twas a day I was strictly a hard maple and white ash sort of fellow, but nowadays I throw all sorts of lesser species into the mix. Hell, there’s even a few sticks of poplar in the woodshed this year, which is a new low for us, because if white birch is grade B, poplar failed out years ago and mostly spends his days hanging out on the street corner, selling dime bags of dirt weed.
We’re actually about halfway through our wood reserves, which means we’re well short of abiding by the old chestnut “half your wood and half your hay by Groundhog Day.” But that’s ok. We’re coming close to the return of Sol (please, please let this be true, ’cause it’s been some dreary the past couple months, let me tell you), and the south-facing nature of our house creates an interesting dynamic: We actually burn more firewood in November and December than we do in January and February. A lot more. It surprises me every year, which it shouldn’t, but that’s ok, because I like surprises, especially when the surprise is that we won’t have to spend the month of March scavenging firewood.
So: Today’s lessons.
1) Plastic buckets rock
2) Bucolic is boring
3) Minute Mount plows don’t. Mount in a minute, that is.
4) They still beat a shovel
5) Face your house South. Unless you live below the equator.
And finally, most importantly 6) Let yourself be surprised