I Guess I’m in a Hand Phase


It’s been cold, startlingly so, and until yesterday the wind was relentless. Now we await an impending storm that’s forecast to bring as much as two feet of snow and still more wind. It’d been an unremarkable winter until this snap; funny how a late-season taste of cold and snow can color the entire season. Suddenly, winter seems long and hard.

The cold has been good for pulling firewood, and we’ve amassed an impressive pile. It’s long been my ambition to stockpile two years worth, but like too many of my ambitions (six pack abs, four hour work week, financial independence, master Hot For Teacher on the guitar), it’s a goal perennially deferred. But this year, I think we’re going to make it, or close enough to claim it so within the margins of reasonable exaggeration. Wood is our sole source of heat and hot water, along with our primary cooking fuel, and for us there’s security in firewood, or at least the illusion of security, and since illusion is all any of us ever get, I’ll take it.

At our previous property, we burned a lot of “B grade” hardwood – red maple, mostly, and good bit of white birch. Here, we have access to an embarrassment of riches: Sugar maple is the primary hardwood species, but also some beech, a bit of black cherry, and lots of apple culled from the long-abandoned orchard. And still some white birch, which maybe isn’t the best from a BTU standpoint, but which I love for its papery bark, a built-in fire starter. Lately, we’ve been burning lots of spruce clapboard scraps, too, and while I’m very much looking forward to finishing the siding (at the rate we’re on, I’m figuring fall of ’21), I’ll sure miss the tinder-dry scraps.

I think I might’ve mentioned this once before, but I’ll never forget reading a historical non-fiction book to the boys about the colonists, and how they burned 50-70 cords of firewood per year (we burn about five). It’s an astonishing amount, unfathomable to me, and made all the more so to realize they had no tractors, nor chainsaws. It must have been all-consuming and exhausting, though I suppose it beat freezing to death by a pretty wide margin.

I guess I don’t have much else to say; I keep thinking I’ll come up with something more meaningful to share, but the days come and go and come again in a flurry of activity, and nothing really comes to mind. Life of the hand, life of the mind, as Will likes to say. I guess I’m in a hand phase.

Oh, and for those of you who are interested, we’ve been posting some photos over here.


10 thoughts on “I Guess I’m in a Hand Phase”

  1. We don’t need earthshaking events to see the ‘meaningfulness’ of your life. Everyday life is meaningful with it’s seemingly mundane tasks and they all contribute to the whole of our existence. I’m sure you end your day in contented exhaustion.
    Thanks for your blog. I do enjoy reading it. I’ve also heard you speak at Blue Moon Cafe in Exeter NH several years ago.
    Stay cozy.

  2. Ben, curious, what heating system do you use? (i.e. I”m assuming you use a heater that you feed with wood, yes?) Also, for cooking?

    1. We have a wood cook stove for heating and cooking… we also have a two-burner propane camp stove that we use in an outdoor kitchen during the warmer months… though we mostly cook on wood through the summer. We just cook early in the morning before the heat of the day.


  3. Wow, I hadn’t seen that video in awhile. To think things like that shaped and molded my young mind at one time, and I actually fell for it! Doesn’t mean that Eddie Van Halen doesn’t wail. I didn’t think regular humans could just play Eddie Van Halen solos? If this is true, please post a live video for evidence. I’ll never forget getting off work from Pine Knob (local amphitheatre) when Van Halen was there. Walking alone in the dark to the parking lot and hearing Eruption playing, echoing so damn loud throughout Clarkston, MI. IT WAS AWESOME!!!

  4. Besides being dirty, burning wood certainly is labor intensive! But it warms you multiple times; when you cut it (even with a chain saw), when you split it, when you stack it, and when you burn it.

    We’ve been on a weather roller-coaster, 60’s/70’s to the 20’s/30’s and back multiple times this winter. I haven’t had to run the snow blower this season, although when the chance of a late storm has passed I’ll probably run the gas tank dry before refilling it with gas and STA-BIL.

    ‘Hope that this is the last winter storm for Vermont, that you have a warm, early, Spring and a Summer without the drought conditions that you had last year.

  5. Wow that photo says everything!! How do animals take it? Raising sheep and artic hare may be appropriate.
    We are having a white out too but a pleasant one, blooming plums and almonds and white most fragrant patches of mountain balm on hillsides and canyons. I was feeling quite selfish living in semi arid area stealing much needed water from Cottonwoods, but then again it appears that in cold climates we humans burn so much fuel too… if we are not going renewable like you. Are you guys completely propane free? What do you do for quick heat like making tea?
    What was the reason that pioneers burned so much wood? Colder winters? Low efficiency?

  6. Hi Ben, I’d love to know what the title of the book….my youngest boy loves historical fiction.

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