Most Importantly

Ice rimed
Ice rimed

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

33 thoughts on “Most Importantly”

  1. Every morning, I chip away at the ice and the frozen-rock-hard ground to get the gate to the chicken yard open–and then do the same thing to get the front door of the chicken coop open wide enough for me to wiggle myself in–carrying two full 5-gallon buckets of water and feed. It’s not pretty and I’m happy to say that nobody watches me do this humiliating deed every morning, except for the chickens and my dogs. And if they know what’s good for them, they won’t say a word. Dreaming of spring.

  2. How many times did you mention “getting old” in this blog? 🙂

    “and I watched an empty five-gallon bucket skitter across the yard like a north country homestead tumbleweed” 🙂 Maybe as our faces get more wrinkles, the world does not look bucolic anymore either, would not want to compare your wrinkled up self with all the beauty outside, so start seeing only ugly stuff. But tumbleweed image is nice, better than white trash. I would have expected you guys had all steel buckets there. .

    I liked the lessons. Thank you.
    And the Minute Man, yes, I had been in product marketing for some years, we had done exactly that, name the products exactly what they do not do. How else would I have my job. .

  3. This particular phrase, “poplar failed out years ago and mostly spends his days hanging out on the street corner, selling dime bags of dirt weed” led me to think, “I’d like to watch the Sesame Street episode that Ben Hewitt might write” –

    1. I picture Will on his farm, no plastic buckets in sight:

      Will, if you start posting your beautiful poems- please!, maybe all these people will stop cursing.

      Get your kids shoveling.

  4. Amen, plastic buckets do rock! We use them for everything from picking up pig shit, to catching chicken blood on butcher day, and for making some sort of cider/beer/wine. Of course not in that order, that’s a little too gritty even for me.
    At least you have a minute plow, I have a snow blower that means I push it up the north facing side of the mountain we chose to live on. Still beats a shovel or having to go to my old respectable career when we lived on a bucolic farmette where buckets were frowned upon and it never snowed. I think that will be one of my future measures of our next property purchase, can I leave buckets strewn about?

  5. My husband and I had the 5 gallon plastic bucket discussion just the other day. He finally got around to cleaning out the garage (a bit), but there was still the pile of about 15 buckets sitting outside, not looking like they were going anywhere soon. When I mentioned them, he told me that you never know when you’re going to need one. (So no, he’s not going to get rid of them.) Since we live in the suburbs, I do sometimes worry about the white trash curb appeal, but oh well. We already know we’re not the richest on the block by several hundred thousand.

    1. Betcha got 14 buckets more then anyone else, so wealth is relative.

      I mean ya ever used dollars for hauling pig poop or making chicken blood cider?

  6. “dirt weed”? Do you mean “ditch weed”? “Kansas Killer”? “Nebraska No High”?

    Poplar/Aspen gets low grades on the BTU front, but being straight grained, it almost splits itself. Although I don’t burn it myself, lots of folks in Colorado burn conifers that have died from the mountain pine beetle invasion. Millions of dead conifers that are hard to harvest and not, other than for forest fire prevention and mulch, (probably) not worth the effort to harvest. If you don’t might creosote production, white cedar is a nice aromatic stove wood.

  7. Here in Colorado there isn’t much choice about being a firewood snob. We worship our hardwoods, if we’re lucky enough to have them. Good thing is, wet wood dries itself in a season, even a rainy one. We’re breaking our boys in on willow. Almost splits itself. The best place to live and love is where you’re planted, even if you have to burn crummy wood!

    And yes, an ode to buckets is overdue.

    1. I read somewhere that in 19th century Vermont providing green wood to the lady of the household for the cookstove was grounds for divorce.

  8. I’ve never shovelled a load of snow in my life! And from humid warm Ballan Australia here this morning I must admit there is something romantic about the idea of it. I’m sure the novelty would wear off after the 3rd or 4th shovelful though.
    As for plastic buckets skittering across the yard in the wind, not a patch on an old galv bucket doing the same. It sounds so very much better, all that clanking it makes.

  9. Cutting and burning some marginal wood is good for woodlot improvement by making room for better tree varieties. Dry poplar makes a good wood for the fall and spring shoulder seasons. According to an old timer that used to live nearby, heused to cut, split and stack some poplar in the fall to burn in the coming Spring. Dry poplar makes a good wood for boiling sap during maple sugar season.

  10. Got a “minute” mount myself. Been known around here to hear someone swear ” minute mount, my ass. GD thing should be called an hour mount. One person to emergency room, another hardier soul with a permanent scar. But what’s really hilarious are the 3 videos I found when I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t get it on.

  11. Well Ben, it’s past summer solstice here and time to start thinking of filling the woodshed for winter. There are plenty fallen trees and boughs to harvest, we’ve never had to fell a tree. They’re all eucalypts of one variety or another so we rough cut them and stack them in the paddocks or woodlot to do a preliminary dry-out for a year or two, then bring them under cover for another season if we can. So now’s the time to split and stack it into the wood shed so any last rain type moisture has time to go. And then start bring the bigger stuff in from the paddocks to replace the season’s firewood in the back of the machinery shed. None of this wood is any good to us at all if not reeeeeeally dry.

    So it’s gonna be 32 degrees today (I think you call that 90F or somethin’), with enough wind to make us wary of bushfire. NO using power tools, no heavy machinery use in the paddocks (for fear of sparks), all cattle in an eaten down paddock away from tall grass. And we’re working firewood.

  12. I watched some buckets skitter this morning too… not to mention the fact that there were a whole mess of white plastic bale wrap scraps (the definition of “white trash,” in fact) that blew into the trees around our house. Now that lends a distinctly rural charm to our views of Camel’s Hump. We are low-balling firewood this year too… burning lots of dead elm. It builds character though because you have to whack each piece about 15 times before it will split. And, it’s perfect for a “shit the woodpile is gone” moment because it burns great– it’s dead!
    Happy winter!

  13. “…a reliable, hardworking man will stack his wood square and straight, while a slacker stacks sloppily. If a pile weaves, wavers, or leans out of plumb, its builder is suspected of a need for eyeglasses, of tippling, or worse. Know those old wives whose tales are famous? Well, when their daughters reach courting age, they gauge the marital prospects of a man by the way he stacks wood. Weak and insecure men (too timid to get far) build a low stack arranged by log size — heavy logs on the bottom, little stuff on top. The socially or politically ambitious (they’re all crooks) stack high and show-offish with big logs on top. The lazy (who never will amount to nothin’) leave their wood in a heap or start a pile but never finish. And the sly and mercenary (watch yer virtue and yer pocketbook) stack ground-fall tree limbs and apple tree prunings in with the wood. If you want to keep your psyche to yourself, stack as the sticks come out of the pile.”

    Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/stacking-wood-zmaz94onzraw.aspx#ixzz3O0DPd8xt

  14. And after those unassuming plastic buckets do all their hard thankless work, they make the best instruments for impromptu drum circles (around here, anyway.) Usually don’t have much call for a snowplow here (last winter not withstanding) so our version of cuss-worthy equipment is the pine straw rake. Living in the middle of a Longleaf Pine forest, we must keep the straw raked up to have any usual pasture. After you get the darn thing on (without impaling yourself, hopefully), it takes only a short distance to fill up and you have to dismount to lift the rake out of the way to create your pile before moving on. Only slightly better than doing it by hand, like shoveling. And, the older I get, the more surprised I am. I think it may be a worthy goal to develop a look of slightly stunned surprise as you get older. Will keep everyone wondering what you’re up to, anyway. Love this picture! Another of Penny’s? Hey, just thought of another possible addition to the Shameless Commerce Division – a calendar of Penny’s photos. 2016 will be here before we know it!

    1. I gotta say, the Shameless Commerce idea is a great one. I bought a 2014 calendar full of farm pictures and nature scenes put together by the writer of another blog I read, and really loved it. You’ve got great material for the pictures. My wife put up a 2015 freebie from the Humane Society or somtehin’ of cute puppies in baskets and shit.

      . . . . .

      Can I suggest it’s not too late for some folks to have a decent 2015 calendar?? PLEASE??

  15. Oh, also want to thank you for the introduction to Nick and his work. Just received notice that his book is on the way to my mailbox. Can’t wait!

  16. For months now, I’ve been eyeing a big old popple that fell right next to the maple I cut last year. Cutting it up for firewood would be so damn easy, but dare I risk the sneers of my neighbors? Burning popple is right up there with hanging sap buckets from phone poles, jacking deer, and bait casting for trout. Then I think about all the ditch weed I sold in high school, and I say what the hell. Time to fire up the saw.

      1. “Garden hackle.” That’s good Jeff, hadn’t heard that term before. I guess it’s more sporting than dynamite.

      2. I, myself, prefer “flash/bang” concussion grenades in lieu of dynamite.

        Garden hackle is what I’ve heard frustrated fly fishing guides call the lowly earthworm. An inch of garden worm attached to a #10 Hornberg fished wet is never a bad choice if you need to catch a fish to eat and, it goes without saying, that the water that you’re fishing isn’t FFO/fly fishing only. I think that I could catch fish almost anywhere with a properly size trio of Adams, Hornberg, and Tellico nymph.

  17. For me, if it’s wood or wood related, it burns. (Hellz yeah I’ve burned me some MDF scraps and cardboard in my outdoor wood boiler!!) Get in there and make me WARM!!

  18. I’m new to your blog & love your writing style. And I like the well-placed swear words…makes it real. Peace 😉

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