The Calm Before the Storm


We've had a lot of snow lately, with another foot promised between now and Monday night. I've been bringing firewood into the house in preparation for this latest bout. I have reached that point every year in the woodshed, when I have burned through all the wood we have purchased from the Wood Guy (as everyone calls the guy who cuts, splits and delivers multiple cords of firewood every fall) and I am now burning wood I have cut, split and stacked all by myself. And every year I get that same gasp of recognition when I realize I am now burning through my own wood, from this very property, instead of that purchased from and delivered by a stranger.

I don't ascribe to the cruel stereotypes of city slickers getting lost in the woods, any more than I bring up my occasional trips to Boston or NYC as if to boast of what pathetically little street cred a middle-aged female geek might possess. I am occasionally bewildered by people who are in turn bewildered by my penchance of wandering off the trails and roads in the woods and just sort of picking a direction and wandering. The first question is always "Aren't you afraid of getting lost?", followed by the observation that all the trees look the same to them. I respond with an observation one makes in a city: is a city person afraid of getting lost? Because all the buildings look the same.

This of course is met with great scoffing, and I am told of the differences buildings and streets have: the signs, the landmarks, the direction the street takes, the color of the bricks or rock or concrete that face the different structures. Of course I know that and observe that; I accept their lecture quietly and don't see any real need to point out that I've never gotten lost in a city, either--although there have been times coming up from a subway I've had to cast about a bit more than usual to determine my compass points. This has become entirely moot with using the GPS on one's smartphone, but even with THAT I often try to figure it out on my own first, to keep the sense of direction sharp in case there's an apocalypse and GPS no longer works. I have seen and read about people getting HOPELESSLY lost no matter where they are...but for whatever reason, I just don't. (Neither does the Favorite Husband, but this isn't about him, for once.)

Anyway, one of the big seekrits of not getting lost is the simple act of observation. Look at the trees as you pass and you will soon find, if you are paying the LEAST little bit of attention, that they do NOT all look alike, any more than buildings or streets or people do. They all have variations of bark and leaf and shape and gnarliness. There are landmarks, too, just as you'd find in the city, only instead of a skyscraper or a sign you remember that tall stand of pines on one side of the hill, or a large boulder, or (being New England) an abandoned stone wall half-buried in the leaves of the forest floor. The so-called "wilderness" I trudge through is fairly riddled with walls and abandoned house foundations and logging roads and abandoned map roads--a quick glance tells you nothing, but once you get the hang of it you can see and follow these roads, almost as well as if they were still real, traveled roads.

But this is not about the woods, but about wood: I guess my belabored point is, what appears to be uniform and generic at first glance is often full of individual character should you study it. A farmer with a flock of sheep knows each animal and can call them by name while we stand there and think "sheep". And that's how it is with firewood, at least with the stuff you have cut and split yourself. You remember the fallen tree--or the tree you had to cut down for whatever reason. You remember measuring out the log lengths by eye, the roar of the chainsaw biting through the bark, the heft as you muscled each piece onto the metal garden cart I used to drag it closer to the house. And then the splitting. The Wood Guy and more intelligent folk own or rent a hydraulic splitter, but Mojo and her Favorite Husband still rely on a maul, a large sledge hammer, and two iron splitting wedges. It is painfully slow work, but you get to know the log, so to speak.

I have an especial love/hate thing going on with tortured logs with twisted grain that are knobbly with knots and branches. Watch people split wood by hand on television sometime: it is invariably straight-grained pine, and the log fairly FLIES to pieces when touched with a maul. I can do that, too. ANYONE can do that. It's the logs that are... shall we say... challenges that I remember. A log so determined to remain a tree that the grain deflects the wedges and maul, or tries to entrap them. The cellulose sticks together like grim death, and only grudgingly allows a tiny crack to widen as you pound away at the poor thing for hours. And at some point you bury a wedge into the very heart of the beast, and you start to think to yourself, that's it; I am NEVER going to get that wedge out, now. But you do. The log eventually gives way to the iron and ends up in a shattered pile that you then have to lug into the shed. On top of everything else, it's summer, perhaps even beastly hot, and there are things you would MUCH RATHER be doing than stowing away winter insurance.

These are the logs you remember. And you wind up feeling almost like you've butchered an animal when you've finally split it. And now I am carrying the pieces into my house for their final destiny, in the wood stove. And perhaps it's merely the forester's granddaughter talking, but even a tree deserves a moment of respect.

...aaaannnnd, then you jam a splinter in your thumb, and the moment passes.