Monday, November 9, 2009

Mindful Warmth 2 - Harvesting

This is one of a series of articles on my recent experiences burning wood to heat my home. You can read the other articles by clicking on the links below:


Wood can be delivered, cut, split and dried, but of course this increases the cost significantly. Even if it is delivered all ready to burn, it still must be stacked in a convenient sheltered location. When needed, it must be carried into the house and placed in the stove chunk by chunk. There is no automatic feed, and no thermostat that turns on the fire when the temperature dips below 68 degrees. My own nervous system (or mostly my wife’s) is the thermostat. We can’t set it and forget it; not at any point in the process. This isn’t a bad thing, but it certainly is different.

In my case, I have laid up approximately 4 cord of wood (a cord being roughly 128 cubic feet). Almost all of it I have cut, hauled, split and stacked myself, with some help from neighbors and friends. My woodpile is almost all “tornado wood, remnants of trees felled in the tornado of 2008 that passed a scant 2 miles from my house on it’s way to cutting a 40 mile swath across the eastern part of the state.

I spent that week at some of my neighbors’ houses with a chain saw cutting up downed maples, oaks, birches, poplars and pines. I sawed the trunks and limbs into sections about 2 feet long, and loaded them into pickups, trailers and the back of my Subaru. I drove them to my home and dumped them into my backyard, into an area that has since been designated as the Cellulosic Heat Processing Zone (CHPZ). It consists of several platforms composed of wood pallets laid on the marshy ground to keep the firewood from rotting, and a large raised platform I constructed out of leftover construction lumber. This will eventually be my main woodshed, but as I ran out of lumber to build the sides and roof, it is still just a platform with a tarp over the woodpile.

Cutting and splitting is just hard work, but it is not mindless work. Anyone who has ever used a chainsaw, and felt it buck, or seize when your attention wandered knows this only too clearly. This is a tool that would just as easily remove a human limb as a tree limb and which one it goes to work on has everything to do with how much attention the operator is paying each second.

All in all, however, I find it pleasurable work. This could be because the experience is still novel to me. Someone who has had to do this their entire life may feel differently perhaps. It is dirty, smelly work, with it’s share of sweating, hard breathing and sore muscles involved. Yet the body adapts and I find that each chunk stored up produces a sense of emotional warmth I don’t get from fuel oil. Just knowing that I am heating my own house by my own work, not dependent upon petroleum imported from foreign nations (except for the gas to run the chain saw and drive the truck that hauls the wood) feels pretty darn good. Odd how physical ease and freedom from labor makes me ultimately FEEL more enslaved, but toil and sweat give me an ineffable sense of freedom. This is just the first part of this whole wood burning thing that seems delightfully paradoxical to me.

I have been working with borrowed chain saws, trucks and trailers. Eventually, I am going to need to buy my own tools for harvesting wood. I’m looking forward to it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just don't let JL get any ideas of splitting wood- he might want to add additional risk to the task!