by Parkman Howe
Whatever else may be said about it, this past winter was a banner season for firewood. All of those branches, tree limbs and the trees themselves, that blocked streets and brought down electrical lines, eventually had to be cut up and carted away. The task of cleaning up the storm damage was at times so massive that the tree companies contracted to do the job finally ran out of space on their lots to store, bury or otherwise dispose of the downed wood.
Enter the enterprising wood-heating homeowner. My neighbor across the street has, ever since he moved in nearly a decade ago, elected to heat his house entirely with wood in a woodstove. He is always on the lookout for sources of new hardwood. Sometimes, friends or neighbors ask him to cut up and remove fallen limbs or trees. At other times, he has helped various crews remove downed trees in roads and streets around town. He has always been more than willing to oblige, since one person’s downed tree is another person’s source of free fuel.
But this spring my neighbor was more enterprising than usual. He made a few phone calls, and then waited for dump trucks full of oak logs to arrive. After a few suspenseful weeks, one huge eight-wheeler pulled into his driveway with a load of massive oak trunks from down the street. The truck came with its own crane, which the driver used to offload the oak chunks onto an open space near his driveway. After a few days of sawing my neighbor used his wheelbarrow to tote the stove-length pieces down to his woodpile near his garage. Then came the next phase: the steady report of the maul splitting the sawed chunks into burnable sizes. Finally, he stacked his free firewood under tarps. Two more trucks paid him a visit. By that time, as he confessed to me, he had lost track of the times the wood had warmed him.
When a downed maple in the parking lot of Foss Farm needed to be removed, my neighbor and I joined forces to remove the obstacle. After we limbed the tree, we stuffed the trunks and thicker branches into the back of his pickup truck, then deposited them halfway up my driveway (he is now out of space). Later this fall, when cooler weather arrives, I will cut, split and stack my own gift of warmth from the weather gods.
I know a number of people who rent log splitters when they have a pile of logs to turn into firewood. The hydraulic splitters do a great job, and can move through several cords in an afternoon. But there is something about the peace of an autumn afternoon alone in the woods or beside a woodshed as the winter darkness creeps among the heaps of leaves, without the drone of an internal combustion engine, that soothes the soul of the solitary woodsman with his maul.
And even in the enveloping darkness of December, with the cold numbing my fingers as I reach for the dried maple and oak and ash stacked carefully in the front of the woodshed, the anticipation of sitting in front of the warming stove as the expanding metal clicks with the growing flames isn’t quite as sweet as the remembered swing of the maul and the clean smack of the oak halves falling neatly asunder.