Nature's Notebook - Tim Abbott
October, 01, 2009
Stacking cordwood is the sort of task that, for me, becomes almost a meditation. It has just the right mix of physical exertion and mental focus, translating irregular armloads into satisfying walls, neat and square. Like putting food by for the winter, it provides a sense of security and accomplishment — even if the wood was delivered to the house rather than personally felled and split.
However inefficient my fireplace or how much it increases my carbon footprint, burning wood is not a habit I would gladly relinquish. It is too deeply ingrained in childhood memory and sense of place.
My father loved splitting wood, and when my sister and I were children, it thrilled us to accompany him on expeditions into the woods, perched in the trailer behind the antique tractor.
The chainsaw was too much for our tender ears, so we stayed at a safe distance, making fairy houses in the duff, while he selected the right trees to fell, limb and buck. Then we would ride back to the house, where Dad would unload the trailer and spend the afternoon splitting logs.
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We watched him swing his maul and listened for the telltale ping when the wedge bit through. Then we would help him move the pile to where he would carefully stack it in cords, fitting each piece of the puzzle with a careful eye. Whole weekends might pass this way, and we never tired of it. My own children have the same attraction to my woodpile and take pride and delight in helping stack it in the cellar.
Today the woods of Northwest Connecticut are managed less and less frequently for forest products. If it were not for a renewed interest in heating with firewood, there would hardly be a market left for our hardwood. Certainly the real estate value of our woodlands is far greater than the value of timber.
Across southern New England, the number of forest landowners is rising while the overall forest cover declines. It’s the result of subdivision and development fever. As working lands become less significant to our rural economy, a whole rural knowledge base recedes. While not only foresters and farmers have keen eyes for the patterns and processes of the natural world, and keep the old skills alive, they and the lands that they manage are at the core of our rural character.
I watch the living trees as I stack my firewood. I note the ravages of a wet summer in the blotched and browning leaves. I see the moss-grown bark of maples and the naked limbs emerging from their summer drapery. There are fewer insects now as the first frost approaches, and the smell of woodsmoke instead of cut grass drifts on the air.
I fit each wedge of wood in the growing stack, shifting to a different face here, placing a horizontal course there, to keep it level as it rises. Even the odd bits find their places, and all will serve, until nothing remains but bark on the floor and white ash in the hearth as winter turns once more to spring.
Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.
© Copyright 2009 by TCExtra.com
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