Baby, won’t you light my fire?
The good husband
I’m not a good husband: I don’t have a woodshed. If I did, then it wouldn’t be full of wood.
A friend once told me that her husband always made sure their woodshed was full of firewood. She’d heard it said, some old adage: “A full woodshed was the mark of a good husband”. Notwithstanding his prowess in the woodshed arena, my friend divorced this paragon of a man several years ago.
I have three old corrugated iron rainwater drums that I use to store firewood, bags of pine cones, and kindling. I also have sawdust in one of the drums that I’ve bagged up after chainsawing long logs into rings ready for splitting to firewood size. The sawdust will go in the henhouse after I clean it out next spring.
By this time of year, autumn, I have about a year’s worth of firewood logs (that still need some seasoning), stored near the drums. Mainly gum from my coppiced gums, but also some poplar from trees grown for both firewood and to reclaim boggy ground.
I use a chainsaw to fell the trees and to saw through the logs at intervals of about 30 centimetres. That length fits snugly into the firebox of our woodstove. I leave quite a small number in comparison, at about twice that length for burning in the large in-built log burner we have in the lounge.
The disparity in amounts reflects the fact that we use the woodstove all year round. The log burner is needed during severe cold snaps when the temperatures plummet close to double digits below zero. We always light it when there’s more than a smattering of snow on the ground; the orange glow, the lick of the flames and the extra warmth satisfy primal survival instincts at such times.
Marching to the beat of a different drum
As I write, one drum is empty, one has a few log burner size logs in it, and the third and final drum has the cones, kindling and a couple of days supply of firewood for the woodstove.
I used to be an all or nothing sort of guy in many areas of my life: the provision of firewood was no exception. I’d only be happy if the three drums, the back of the verandah, and a substantial log pile under a tarpaulin were bulging with seasoned firewood by this time of year: mid-autumn. I only ever got that result when I had enough rings cut to justify hiring a mechanical block splitter.
I could count on one hand the number of times I achieved that in the twenty-eight years I’ve had to build up firewood supplies. So most of the time I was beating myself up at my lack of resourcefulness and poor time management. How could I claim a modicum of self-reliance when I couldn’t even provide the family with a respectable heap of firewood before the rigours of winter set in?
These days I do it differently: we rug up or freeze! Just joking. Although there’s a movement out there (Isn’t there always?) that espouses just that kind of practice. I won’t get distracted and go into their reasoning here, but you could ‘google it’ if you’re curious.
Let’s try that again: These days I do it differently: we have enough firewood for when we need it and we keep warm. No heat pumps.
Timing is everything
We do have an electric convection current heater but only use it for guests staying in a bedroom that, during the cooler months, gets a bit nippy first thing in the morning. Oh, and a small 400W heat panel in my study: the room I’m using at this very moment to write this post. I haven’t needed it since last autumn but it’s mid-autumn now and there’s a chill in the air some mornings. Later today, I’ll switch it on at the wall and set the timer so that the heater comes on an hour or so before I get to the room, which will be sometime between 9.00 – 10 am.
Don’t go all Zen on me
“How does he do it?” That’s you, with the intonation needed to impart a mix of admiration and awe. “How does he chop wood for long enough and in the amounts needed. Has he achieved some sort of Zen-like clarity in this regard?” I guess you’re referring to that puzzler of a Zen koan:
Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
To answer your question: There’s no Zen-like clarity here. For me, it’s more like Sue Hubbell describes it in her seasonal reflections on living for twelve years (most of that time alone), on a hundred acres in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri:
Each morning in the late fall and winter, I split enough wood for the second day, carry it to the cabin and pile it near the wood stove where it can dry.
The rhythm of life is a powerful beat
My wood is either in a drum or under a tarpaulin so at least it stays dry. I need to chop wood through all four seasons because wood is the fuel we use to give us hot water and to cook our evening meals. I chop wood in the afternoon: enough to last three or four days. On average, I’m splitting wood twice a week.
Like Sue Hubbell, chopping wood by hand with a block splitter is a case of a little but often. That way, chopping wood, tossing it in a drum, and later stacking it in a recess next to the woodstove, is part of the daily rhythm of my life, not ‘a thing apart’.
Keeping the home fires burning
I clearly fail my friend’s “good husband” criterion. But at least I’m happy with the degree of self-reliance evident in my efforts to ensure that year in, year out we have all the firewood we need.
In next Monday’s blog post I’ll give you an insight into how our approach to self-reliance has meant we have had no need to visit a supermarket (or any other kind of shop for that matter), over the last five weeks. Although we are now into week four of our country’s level four Covid-19 lockdown measures, it has had a very minimal impact on our usual shopping routines.
Thanks for your company. Bye for now from Little Owl Gully.