Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Getting In The Firewood

There was a time I thought I’d be cutting my firewood every year until I was an old man. It was hard work, and by the time I was done sometime in the fall, there were no extra pounds on me. Then would come holidays with all the food and the extra pounds would gradually return until summer rolled around again and I’d be back in the woods. I had a Ford 8N farm tractor that was older than I was and I used it to pull trees out of the family woodlot in West Lovell. Then I cut it to four-foot lengths to haul home to work it up after school each day. My wife and kids all helped get it into the woodshed before snowfall.

It was a labor-intensive and time-consuming process, but it was a whole-family effort and everyone enjoyed sitting near the living-room wood stove through the winter. You might say we bonded over firewood. The work was all mine until the wood was all cut to stove length. The family helped while I was splitting it, pulling the cloven pieces from each side of the chopping block and carrying them to the woodshed. I worked as a school district administrator during the first couple of years, a job from which I derived little satisfaction. The straightforward task of getting firewood from stump to stove was a welcome relief from the nebulous duties of that job.

Me and Roseann 1978
Firewood kept me grounded. It was intensely physical and the work-reward continuum was crystal clear. It was me with my tools in the woods, then me with family at home. A full woodshed spelled contentment and satisfaction through the long, Maine winter. In those days we had sheep, pigs, and chickens which needed watering every night and I’d have to chop ice out of their buckets before refilling them for the pigs and other animals behind the barn. I remember walking past the brimming woodshed at night and seeing smoke rise straight up from the chimney into a star-filled night sky on frigid evenings when there was no wind. Through the window, I could see my children reading or watching television around the stove. Life was good.

Roseann, with our daughters Sarah& Jessica 1978
Keeping the family warm was my job but so was bringing home a paycheck. As an administrator, I went to endless meetings, talked on the phone a lot, and did a lot of paperwork that few paid any attention to. I remember driving home each afternoon wondering what I had accomplished. I remember walking by classrooms to see teachers working with kids and thinking that’s what really matters, and not whatever it was I was supposed to be doing each day. When a job teaching history opened up I went for it and never looked back.

Mike with his tractor
Teaching US History had meaning and so did cutting firewood, but we lived in a drafty old house requiring endless upkeep. After a friend and I purchased a 30-acre lot on a nearby hillside and divided it between us, I dreamed of a tight, thoroughly insulated new home. Soon I was clearing a site for it and a year later we were living there. Soon after, I began cutting trees to open a view to western mountains and sunsets. Each year I cut seven or eight cords — enough to heat through the winter. After seven years of that, we had a panorama and I was making enough as a property manager to buy firewood from others instead of going into the woods and cutting it myself.
Mike twitching one out
To compensate for the loss of that physical activity, I had to increase my exercise regimen and I’ve continued it to the present day. I still cut wood once in a while because trees blow down often. I work them up to provide wood for the fireplace but I use the oil furnace for heat now. I miss my old firewood routine, but I’m learning to leave the harder, physical work to younger men.

Mike keeps adding to the pile
As I write this, I’m watching from my office window as my son-in-law, Mike pulls logs out of the woods beyond where I first cleared thirty years ago. His has a Kubota with a skidding winch in back. All I had to do this time was mark trees in the woods down the hill that had grown considerably taller over the last thirty years and threatened to block the horizon again.

There’s quite a pile of tree-length firewood out there and he’s not finished yet. I’m not sure how much but it’s more than the seven or eight cords I used to bring up each summer. I’m planning to hire someone to cut and split it, but I’ll probably get out and pound away a bit myself, just for old time’s sake.


Dawn said...

Good column Tom. I remember these days as well. When we were newly married building our own home in Limington,Maine, we had tree length pieces delivered to go along with what we were cutting on our own land. It was a whole bunch cheaper than seasoned cut to go wood, and we were young enough to handle it. Every fall would be spent cutting and stacking wood enough to last the winter. After a few years of doing that we graduated to 4'pieces and then eventually cords of green wood all cut and ready to go, only having to stack; no ax needed. While I can look back on those days fondly, I can't say that I wish to be doing that again. I always believed every Maine home in the country should have a woodstove. It came in very handy when the ice storms came. I still remember the ice storm of 98. We were living in Fryeburg by then and had no trouble being without electricity for a week. Everything was cooked on the top of the woodstove, and all the perishables were safe and secure nestled in the snow outside the door.

I moved to a warmer climate and have not missed the bitter cold of Maine in the deep winter. Stay warm! Winter's coming!

Jay said...

Beautiful. Made me harken back to my childhood growing up in Baltimore.
I enjoy living in Florida but I DO miss the change of seasons. We have two seasons in Florida; hot stinky sweaty summer and two weeks of “winter”
I grew up in the city in a very blue collar apartment complex. There was one big furnace for every two buildings and sometimes in the winter there was no heat, or not enough. We used the old trick of turning on the oven and opening the door. The heat would eventually drift out from the kitchen. Sometimes we’d turn on all the top burners too if it was really cold.
Chopping wood, while it sounds like it might keep you in shape, is something, by the sounds of it, I’m glad I didn’t have to worry about, although it would have been nice to have a warm wood stove in the living room.
Great story sir. Well told.

CaptDMO said...

I no longer own even ONE chain saw. (Big mistake with storms)
Two cords of "green" are a phone call (and check) away in early summer.
Splitting? Sure, The hydraulic connections on the tractor work REAL good.
I won't miss grinding the "mushrooms" off the wedges, shaving down the replacement axe and maul handles "to fit". (The heads are ancient non "industry standard")
I seem to remember back in the day, watching me split firewood kept the young ladies entertained, but I seem to be a bit older, flabbier, and softer THESE days.
That's OK, only one hottie to be concerned with for the last generation or so, and she apparently finds entertainment with Atlas/Ball jars and her own harvesting of the Victory garden.

Anonymous said...

Nice reminder of why we live in Maine. When I had a home in Windham with six acres and a horse, I cut out about an acre and built a fence and small barn using all hand tools just to see if I could. Great time in my life.

Jared J Bristol said...

Charles, I never knew that about you, Grasshopper. 45 years ago we built our home in Hebron. I bought a chain saw and learned how to use it, almost taking out a lower leg! I cut them down, cut them to 4', no tractor, then rented a splitter. My young boys helped for years. They say you get heat out of wood several times on the way to the stove! It's true. Labor intensive? Oh yeah, multiple times. I buy my wood these days at age 72, cut and split, and it's all I can do to stack it. And I only burn about 3 cord. I would not give up the wood stove for anything. Nothing like it. All other forms of heat just don't measure up.