For All I Know

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.

16 thoughts on “For All I Know”

  1. Hey Ben, I’ve been out of the loop for a while. Sold a home in Mass and bought some land in Mississippi. It is good to start reading your posts again. You are a wonderful writer. God bless you and yours. Happy New Year! I’ll try to keep up in 2021

  2. Hi Ben…,I often wonder about trees communicating with one another. Do they actually pause when one of their own falls? Or watch as one slowly rots? Do they fear fire? There are people who study trees who are certain that trees have a system of communication. I’m inclined to agree.

    Thank you for this post.

    1. From what I understand, there’s a whole lot of tree talk going on. See NCfarmchick’s book recommendation below!

  3. We have about 8 cords of wood in total scattered throughout our property (wherever there is a flat spot, essentially ) and I just like to stand and look at it sometimes. Much of it is in the round piles known as holz hausen which I think are just pretty. Some of it is in a long meandering wall that goes a looooong way down a path to our pond. It has been dubbed the “Great Wall of Wood” by people who visit and we have gotten more than one comment about splitting that much wood in years past and being glad not to do it anymore. I hope I never feel that way. At least, I know I will never tire of looking at it and will hope my boys will help keep it up when we are not able. I would give up a lot to still have those stacks of wood. I imagine you feel much the same. Have you read “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben? Just started it and I am sure you would appreciate it if you have not come across it yet. Hope Winter continues to treat you well. 🙂

    1. I haven’t read that book, but I keep hearing about it… soon! Those round wood piles are real pretty.

  4. Ben,

    ‘Hope that the calendar change finds you and yours well in body, in mind, and filled with GOD’s Holy Spirit!

    If I close my eyes and think back about 50 years I can remember the good parts about cutting, splitting, stacking, and burning wood. Then I am reminded how nice it is to set the thermostat on 70 and let the byproduct of of a long death dinosaur do its part for global warming.

    How is Rye’s moose eating?

    1. It’s going down good. Just finished off a big moose meatloaf.
      I really like wood heat. There’s nothing like standing by the woodstove after coming inside on a cold day. But yes, it’s a lot of work.

  5. I am curious to know if you cut the trees vs using already downed trees – and why, if so?

    As I understand it, one shouldn’t really need to cut trees if there is woods enough (unless needing to cut dead ones or wanting to cut to clear space or to have it for a project) since one should get about a cord of wood per acre of all the downed wood from storms.

    And isn’t it sacrilege to cut a sugar maple in VT? 😉

    Just curious is all …

    Wendy H

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. In my experience, the trees that come down in storms are pretty punky and not good for burning. I’m dropping trees that were damaged by the skidder last time this land was logged; they’re usually still living, but not in good health.

  6. Well said, as I’ve come to expect and anticipate from your thoughtful writing.

    We had a pile of sawdust growing by our stacks of log lengths, cut just up the hill and delivered to our field. Too close to the house for deer to inspect. Now all the cut rounds are stacked. Didn’t get them split before they got blanketed in snow. It’s always a bit of a race to prep those BTUs for future fires 18 months on. And the days move inexorably forward…

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