Friday, January 8, 2010

Firewood, a primal commodity

These days we still love a fire blazing in the house, especially on the coldest days. It is those sticks of firewood that we have felled, sawed, split and hauled that stand between us an the frigid cold that surrounds the house. Oh sure, we still have an electric furnace but we all know what could happen if that were our only source of heat out here at the end of the electrical power line.

I was about 10 years old when my father died suddenly and my mother moved her four boys to the Ozark hills. It was during our first winter that we discovered the supreme importance of those sticks of firewood that could keep some degree of comfort in our small cabin. In the first years we had only a fireplace. We would "bank the fire" at night (cover the coals with ashes) and then the first hardy soul in the morning would uncover the coals and lay more dry wood on top. If you were lucky, the temperature inside would become tolerable in an hour or two.

The most pressing problem was that we boys had no knowledge of wood cutting and splitting and had no older male in the family to instruct us. Somehow we made it through those first winters with only a crosscut saw. Wood was brought into the house in quite meager amounts, and as I recall we almost never had enough wood to create a stack outside the door of the cabin.

We boys struggled with the saw. We pushed and pulled and cursed and spent way too much time gaining just a few sticks of wood. We learned later from a helpful neighbor that the saw had lost it's "set", causing it to bind in the wood on every stroke. Later we purchased a David Bradley chainsaw from Sears and Roebuck. Of course that began a whole new learning curve for we boys, as we then needed knowledge of small engines, the art of sharpening the chain, safety, etc.

There is another, somewhat guilty memory. It is the recollection of how little wood my mother would burn during the day when her sons were away in a warm schoolhouse. She was just plain stingy with firewood, causing the inside temperature to be quite cold. I suspect she spent much of the day in a chair directly in front of the fireplace. When we returned home she would often cajole and beg us to fill the wood box on the back porch.

Well, we have just returned from outside where we dug those precious sticks of firewood out of the snow and brought them to the house. Hands, feet, and faces were painfully cold by the time we finished. It is 7 degrees outside and the wind is swirling. Inside, the fire blazes in the stove, bringing back memories of winters gone by and emphasizing once more the importance, each year, of building large stacks of firewood against the coming winter.


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Please enlighten me. The Hired Man