School’s back in session. The tourists (mostly) have gone. There’s a new nip in the air at nights, and the days are trending cooler. To the experienced Maine resident, it all points to one thing:
Time to get in the firewood.
One was to get ‘er done is to do it yourself. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a manly, flannel-shirted Mainer in possession of a forty-acre wood lot is in need of a chainsaw. And a drag chain, tow rig on the truck and steel-capped boots. The advantages of cutting your own are many; it’s free, it’s ecological, it gets you out in the fresh air, and you always know what sort of wood you’re getting. The downside? It’s “free” only if you discount the 217 hours it’s going to take you to down, trim, cut, split and stack. The environmental benefits aren’t apparent to the beetles and borers (or, God forbid, bees…) you dislodge, and they will make themselves known by swarming all over those steel-toed boots. You will be out in the fresh air in May, June, and July, during which time your choice will be either suffering heat stroke in your long-sleeved shirt or getting eaten by mosquitoes. I’m not even going to think about the ticks.
Still, the man or woman who puts three or four cords into the wood pile has earned bragging rights for the rest of the fall and winter, and will be the recipient of admiring nods from the neighbors at the Town Meeting.
The wussier, but more convenient, way is to pay someone else to bring your wood. In the years since I’ve been in Maine, I’ve had my wood delivered by an “Urban forester,” a kind of cheerful back-to-the-land hippie; various drivers from a large corporate wood farm; and a father-son team whose dump truck held a suspiciously varied selection of wood – I don’t know if they got their supply in the dead of night from other people’s wood lots, and I didn’t ask. These men all had two things in common: they all wore grungy insulated shirt-jackets, and they all enjoyed talking my head off. Seriously, I’ve had some of my best political discussions ever with the Wood Guy. It must be lonely up there in the timberland.
volatility in the business – the fellow who reliably delivered full cords of well-cured oak and maple for a few years will, one fall, be gone. Did he move? Go to law school? Stumble over someone’s marijuana patch in the woods*? Who knows? Time to find another supplier, and for that, you need recommendations. You don’t want to be like my friend who called the number on one of those hand-painted signs without any further checking. She got her two cords delivered via a rusty pick-up over the course of several weeks. She still isn’t sure she got full cords, and some of the wood was alder and pine (softwoods look pretty on a campfire, but they won’t do a lick of good in your woodstove.)
Eventually, you’ll get a consensus from the neighbors, and you’ll put in a call. Your Wood Guy will have a name like Sylvestre DuChagne, pronounced “Buddy Doochin.” If his operation is big enough, Buddy will be able to set you up with 16 inch, 14 inch and even the hard-to-find 12 inch splits. Measure your stove! There are few purchases less returnable than two cords of wood that’s been dumped in your driveway.
Once Buddy’s arrived with his dump truck and you’ve had a nice chat about who you’re supporting in the hotly-contested Senatorial race (Angus King) then the real fun starts. You may not have had to down, drag and split that timber, but you still have to stack it. There are many opinions as to the “best” or “right” technique for stacking wood. In between trees? On the porch? In the barn? I maintain that the absolute best way to stack wood is to have your teenagers do it. If
you’re inside enjoying a hot cup of tea while they haul it off, do you really care how they arrange the wood? No, because if you play your cards right, they’ll also be responsible for bringing the splits in during the winter.
Once the kids are done, take some time to enjoy the sight! A heavily-stacked wood pile engenders the same deep, warm security as a full pantry and a healthy bank balance. You know no matter how deep the snow, how harsh the weather, how frequent the power outages, you’ll make it through to mud season. That’s the way life should be.
*This is actually going to be the plot of Paul’s next book.