After the gardens are cleared and the leaves raked. After the gutters are cleaned and the long-handled tools hung inside the barn. After the tractor is winterized and the bucket loader exchanged for the plow. After seed is purchased and the bird feeders filled. After I’ve set aside my fly rod for another season. After this year’s supply of stove wood is neatly stacked in the lean-to. After the saws are oiled and their chains sharpened, it’s once again time to harvest wood for the winter that will follow this one.
Part of the twelve acres that surround our home is a woodlot comprised of a variety of hardwoods. Among maples, black birch, poplars, tulip and ironwood trees, there are beech, red and white oak, shagbark hickory and white ash that I prefer because of the ease with which they split and for their excellent heating value.
The oaks are best for kindling. After splitting logs with my six-pound maul, I collect smaller pieces, and swinging an axe, split them into thin strips. These are set into plastic bins piled one on top of another in the barn to dry out. Shagbark is a bit harder to split. Bits of bark fall to the ground and must be swept away, but it is strong and in my opinion of all the hardwoods is best to burn. Ash is also fairly easy to split and burns well. Yet, it’s the beech that I covet for they split with ease, and are the cleanest, and the easiest to stack. Each fall I limit the amount of beech trees felled, doing my best to conserve my supply for the years to come.
A long gravel drive extends down from the macadam road that runs beside our property. It bends around a swamp in the shape of the letter S. The bottom of the S washes up against our house like a large pool formed at a bottom of a waterfall. A pole barn is an easy walk out our side door and across the gravel pool. Attached to the barn is a lean-to where Trish stores her garden pots, stakes and fencing. A shed is a few feet away. It is where I keep my tools that include two chainsaws, a number of axes, wedges and a maul. It is also where I store the birdseed. Attached to the shed is a second lean-to, where the stove wood is stored.
I’ll spend the next few months in front of these structures, building a mountain of wood to be burned during the following winter. Before I begin the work of felling and hauling trees, cutting them to size, and then splitting the logs and heaping each onto the steadily rising mountain, I must prepare the work site.
Each year, as the air chills and the November clouds sweep overhead, I clean away the debris — bits of wood, bark, twigs and branches embedded in the sawdust and soft earth. A walkway extends from the drive to the shed. On one side of the dirt walk are wooden pallets enclosed on three sides by a wooden fence while on the other is a smaller area, which also contains a set of wooden pallets. The smaller section is where logs are stored before they are split while the larger is where I pile the split wood. There is a large circular chopping block on one side of the walkway. Beside the block is a taller wooden frame that can hold branches, limbs and longer logs to be cut.
After I check the pallets that keep the wood above the soil, I secure the wooden fence that sets the work area apart from the gravel drive. The wooden frame is near collapse after four or five years of use and requires my attention if I am to use it for another few seasons. Once the site is ready it’s time to collect wood. In addition to my woodlot, there is the occasional neighbor, who offers a fallen tree to anyone willing to clear it from his property. This year, I collect three truckloads of red oak from the front yard across the macadam road. Cut to size, the logs are ready to be split.
It is in this way that we heat out home. After more than thirty years, I still stare at the empty pallets and wonder how it can be that by the end of January the mountain of stove wood will once again stand tall.