We’ve had an unseasonably warm November. Which figures, since we just put a woodstove in the basement under our kitchen. No matter though, this is Upstate NY. It will get cold and will make up for the late start on the other end of the season. I’m looking forward to the additional heat and glorious smell of burning wood in the house.

To prepare, I’ve started cutting and splitting fuel for the stove. A few weekends now spent with my dad’s old 16″ STIHL chainsaw and several twisted piles of years-old trees out at my in-law’s house, truck backed down the lane waiting by the hedgerow for the load. The saw’s orange case, red gas can and dirty-white bar-oil jug on the tailgate like a blue-collar still-life. Three muffled coughs from the saw before it finally pulls to life and belts out its two-stroke song. Saw dust covering my jeans and boots as 18″ lengths fall away into the brush. The smell and sound laying-hold of long-neglected memories.

I grew up gathering wood every late-summer/early-fall with my dad. It was the rite of the season. The annual acknowledgment that while we had some time to prepare, we’d never really have as much time as we’d like and we’d better get busy. Our house would be good and damn warm when the snow decided to fly.

We’d spend weekend afternoons cutting up blow-downs on various friends’ property. I remember standing by while dad dispatched the deadfall, watching the saw’s exhaust and dust from fresh cut wood swirling in bright shafts of sun overhead. Once home, we’d split the lengths and stack them along the side of the garage. Until I was 11 or 12 my job was carrying and stacking, while dad wielded the saw and the splitting maul. When I got strong enough to do more than simply beat dents into the lengths of wood, dad gladly let me have the splitting duty. The saw however, was always his.

About the time I was in high school, the blow-downs and gift wood thinned and we turned to having a truckload of split lengths dumped in the driveway each year. A couple full cords of the stuff that I got to hump to the side of the garage. In spite of the sheer size of the wood mountain that took up 2/3 of the driveway behind the house, I enjoyed the work. Unlike school. The goal was simple and I saw my progress each time I returned to the pile. I found my own rhythm and flow and pace. I felt strong. Alive in the fresh air. Hands gathering callouses and splinters, swollen with hard work. To this day I won’t wear gloves, I want to feel what I’m working with. It’s been well over two decades since I stacked my last pile of wood.

This past weekend I spent Saturday afternoon swinging my maul, working off the modest pile of wood I trucked back from my in-laws. Placing each piece on the big splitting round, turning each just-so to give me a clear shot at popping the tight-twisted grain, I separated outside sections from the seasoned, but still stubborn heartwood.

A familiar rhythm returned with each swing. A familiar sound and smell and feeling of being alive. I raised angry blisters on my hands, which have quickly turned callous. My back and forearms and shoulders are good and sore. But the wood is now stacked and waiting for more to join it. And the forecast is calling for cold.


Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey

7 responses to “WOODPILE

  1. “like a blue-collar still-life. ”
    I like.

  2. I enjoy moving wood from our big rack out back to the smaller stack on the porch just outside the room with our fireplace, and you’ve hit right on why I like it — it’s one of the few tasks in my life where there is a defined beginning, a defined end, and measurable progress.

    • fishingpoet

      We always had a smaller bin on the porch too. Traipsing out to the stack to bring back wood always fell to me as well. Not sure where my sister was for all the fun 🙂

  3. Hemlock Bob

    I’ve had the pleasure of rediscovering this joy as well. We just bought a house in Hemlock and have a wood stove. I haven’t had to work with firewood since I lived at home with mom and dad in the 1980s, and it feels great to be back at it. And like you, I refuse to wear gloves much to the chagrin of my wife. And like you, it’s for the same exact reason. The cuts and scars and pinched digits are badges of courage, or stubborn stupidity depending on who you ask. Nevertheless, they are worn with pride.

    • fishingpoet

      There’s something about a warm, wood fire-heated house that makes the effort completely worth it.
      Thanks for the shout, Bob. And for stopping by!

  4. john

    Hardwood is great natural fuel. I’ve been cutting and splitting wood since I was 10 years old for fire wood. Absolutely awesome renewable fuel resource. My favorite woodworking and fuel wood is good ‘ole Sugar Maple. Saws and sands great, doesn’t swell and shrink too much and burns hot and smoke free. Ash is great too, but unfortunately it will be under attack in New York by the Emerald Ash Borer. We should ssave Maples and Cherries for now and focus on selective zone harvesting of Ash to control the borer under the guideance of NYS Foresters. Don’t transport the Ash though. Plant more trees!

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