Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wood Heat

Dad once told me “when you heat with wood it warms you twice,” meaning that you are heated by the physical exertion of cutting the tree down and then again when you burn it. I must be doing something wrong because I know I get sweaty at least five or six times, and that’s if everything goes right.

Or maybe I am just really out of shape. The cutting, hauling, splitting, stacking, and carrying all drive the chill from me – and that’s before I ever strike a match. I know that no one is making me do this – but I haven’t purchased firewood in over twenty years. I just burn the wood I cut down on my own place, and it’s not because I am looking for something to do.

Last year we decided to add on a garage to our old farm house so I cut down several trees to make room. I should have cut down one more though. I was backing out of the new driveway while having a discussion with my wife. We were on opposite sides of an issue and I was pointing out why her perspective was incorrect when I hit a tree. My truck emits a warning sound when you get too close to an object – but apparently it becomes useless at ramming speed. The next day I broke a sweat cutting that tree down.

When I am using a chain saw I get a little nervous as I consider what can go wrong and remember that which has gone wrong. I have an old pair of coveralls that have an ugly laceration right along the belt line. I also parted with some jeans that almost became one leg cut-offs.

One could argue that because I am so easily distracted I may not be the best guy to use a chainsaw. My father did not have the same freedom to daydream when he was clearing trees on his father’s farm.

Dad learned to fell trees at the other end of a lumberman’s saw (a long saw with a handle at each end). Just by looking at one you can almost hear the rhythmical sawing sound of two men working in concert.

He had spent many winter days in the woods with his father harvesting next year’s cooking and heating fuel. A team of horses would drag the logs back to the farm. Once they were cut again to the proper length Dad would us an axe to split the logs.

Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease sometime around his retirement. Before the disease had its way with him he helped me split wood in the barn. I had purchased a gas-powered hydraulic wood splitter and I was anxious to use it with him. I enjoyed that afternoon with Dad - the easy conversation, the laughter, and the creaking and cracking sound the wood made as it was reluctantly ripped in two.

The best way to learn from Dad was to spend time in the classroom with him. He taught me that stringy, sinewy elm would split cleanly when it was frozen, the easiest way to split a log was with the direction of the growth of the tree, and don’t be in such a hurry.

That was the last time I used the splitter. Within a few months it became impossible for Dad to stand without assistance. I sold the splitter, so now when I split wood I do it the old fashioned way - I use an axe, splitting wedge and a maul. I am warmed and I think of Dad.

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