Thoughts from the Summit: At the woodpile

6 mins read
Lift, stack, carry, throw. (Photo by Annie Twitchell)

Lift, stack, carry, throw. The split logs bounce off the pile already loaded and come to rest against the wooden sides of the trailer.

It has been over a year since I’ve done firewood. My current landing pad does not have a wood fire heating system and there has been no need—and very little time—for me to exercise that skill set.

This afternoon my brother David was heading out to work on the firewood, and I went along. Despite my lack of recent experience, firewood is something I have done for my entire life. I don’t think I will ever forget how to sweep, lift, throw an armful of split logs into the trailer, or how to watch the pile of tree-length logs for the tell-tale wobble of an impending collapse while the boys are cutting. Stacking firewood is an art, a jigsaw puzzle I’ve learned from early childhood.

Mom and Dad heat primarily with wood, and it is cheaper to do the work ourselves than to buy cut, split, and delivered cordwood.

One of my earliest memories was helping my older brother fill the kitchen woodbox from the bay in the basement. I was about five years old and I picked the biggest piece I could find to carry upstairs. I slipped on the stairs, fell hard, and crushed my right ring finger under the log. The bone in the tip of my finger never did heal properly and it still appears slightly swollen when compared to my other fingers.

For me, firewood was an interactive life cycle, similar to the monarch butterflies I observed. We did our own timber harvest one year on a friend’s property, felling the trees, peeling away the branches and foliage with deft strokes of a chainsaw, slicing the trunks into 16 inch long chunks, splitting, piling, and hauling home. At home, we stack, and then the winter is a long cycle of hauling wood to the cellar, to the bays nearest the furnace, and feeding the hungry fire. Cutting the old growth opens space for younger, smaller trees to fill the spaces, if the woodlot is managed well.

In lieu of our own woodlot, my family usually purchases tree length from one of the many loggers in the area, and over the summer and early fall we process the timber.

The chainsaw is too heavy for me to manage comfortably, so a hydraulic woodsplitter is usually my weapon of choice. I can tell when I pick up a log how many pieces I should split it into; I can guess what the inside of the log will look like and how easily it will split. I know where to hold the log and how to catch it against my hip if one half starts to fall. My hands have memorized these movements and actions and they are built into my muscle memory.

Here, too, I learned to drive. I learned to back a bumper-pull single axle in a space barely wider than the trailer itself. I learned to drive in reverse, to weave through traffic with a trailer on my back, to take corners a little wide but not wider than necessary. I learned to feel out the tires and understand the terrain underneath me and I learned to be steady and methodical, to take my time and get it right. Mistakes in the wood yard are dangerous. My finger is a periodic reminder of this.

There is a cast iron cook stove in the kitchen and I learned to cook on the stovetop, and also to bake in the oven. The thermometer on the oven hasn’t worked for as long as I can remember but I learned to judge the temperature with my hand and fuel or cool the fire to accommodate for my baking needs.

The work is hard. Firewood is heavy and we process ten cord of treelength every year, or more if we help someone else out. Firewood is a season of blisters and bruises and splinters and sunburns and bug bites. Some years there is a rush to finish the last of the wood before snow flies. When my entire family worked away from home all summer, we had to cram the firewood into the weekends in September and October before the winter fell like a heavy blanket, burying all the wood.

But I realized today that I miss it. I miss the movements, the dance between myself and the wood, the dance between my brothers and myself. We rarely speak; too much equipment noise and chatter. But we know each others movements so well that we interact silently and efficiently.

I would never have thought that I would say it, but it is true. I miss doing firewood.

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