Saturday, November 21, 2009


Some people plant fancy bushes along their front sidewalk. Others place statues or beautiful lights outside the door. Dave and I try not to consume conspicuously, except when it comes to firewood. Six cords of dry firewood lining our front walk, row after row, stacked solidly and beautifully, makes us feel secure and warm. It also tells everyone who visits our farm what we value – firewood!

Splitting and stacking firewood are a completely different processes. When you stack, all you care about is the shape of the piece and the size of the piece. As long as there are pieces of wood lying on the ground, the stacker is busy. Splitting firewood means picking up a log, setting it onto the splitting rail against the wedge, and holding it in place with your left hand. Then your right hand pulls the lever that engages the hydraulics on the tractor and moves the splitting ram forward. As the splitting ram moves, you have time to appreciate the wood which is being split. Ironwood has a finely corrugated bark. Young red oak’s bark is smooth, almost like popple, but when the log cracks open, the warm red wood proves it is oak.

The crack of wood splitting gives me great joy. The clean crack of ironwood, the longer, more drawn out crack of dry oak, and the muffled crunch of rotting logs are all different. But they all imply a strength far greater than I have.

Fungi leave patterns under the bark and in the wood of some trees, branching trails of blackness. I watch with interest the creeping pattern of trails in the wood I split. The wood itself has patterns too – little dark dashes in the cross grain define the growth rings of maple and oak. Unsplittable elm has tough strings of wood running parallel to each other through the log. Ironwood logs split reliably in half, making them perfect for the end columns.

When the stacking is done, our front walk is lined with row after row of split wood. For a few days, the wood shed is solid, and then the rows begin to dwindle. You can read the pattern of winter weather by the wealth in our woodshed. Last year we ran out of wood in February. This year, we hope to have wood heat through March. But however long it lasts, the row at the very front of our wood shed will greet us when we drive into the yard, a wonderful pattern of color, texture, shape.

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