At first light I return to the same spot in the woods I’d left at last light the day before, where I’d been cutting firewood for the past few days and where the ground is covered by a carpet of sawdust. In the low morning light I can see the new tracks of a small deer who’d come during the night, perhaps drawn to the scent of newly cut wood, or having wandered here by happenstance.
It’s good firewood: Ash, beech, sugar maple. The big trees come crashing down with the whump of heavy wood against snow-covered soil. Then that certain, fleeting stillness, the forest pausing to note the passing of one of its own.
I cut and haul and split for four days straight, not particularly long days, but long enough to earn my suppers, and almost long enough to convince myself that I’ve given in relatively equal measure to what I’ve gained, though it’s probably true that I’ve become so accustomed to giving so little that my sense of what’s equal is all out-of-whack. Nonetheless, it feels good.
The calendar ticks over into the New Year. A storm comes and there is snow. I’m done cutting wood for a while. I hang my chaps back in the barn, instead of by the wood stove to dry for the next day, and I miss the wood-and-oil smell of them. I plow the driveway, and when I’m finished plowing, I ski past the spot I’d been cutting wood. The sawdust is covered, but the deer has been back. I can see where it scuffed in the snow, and where it’s tracks disappear over the top of a treed knoll, and for a moment I allow myself the possibility that it’s right there, just on the other side of that small rise, smelling and listening and judging the danger. And for all I know, it is.
For your listening pleasure (and not entirely unrelated to the above), Franklin Burroughs reading his essay Compression Wood.