Sunday, January 10, 2016

A winter's day

Years ago, long before I had a steady job, I spent a good part of the winter making firewood. And because I didn't have a steady job I needed that wood to heat the place. I still get shivers thinking about my half-assed logging operation. I had an old tractor with a brush guard over the radiator to keep sticks out and I'd drive that old thing uphill and down through the woods pulling bigger loads than it ever should have. Many a time I'd be dragging a tree out and it would catch on a rock or stump and the tractor would stand up in a wheelie. Somehow I always managed to stomp the clutch down before it came all the way over, but there were some close calls. I recall a neighbor doing the same thing but wasn't so lucky. When his tractor came over the steering wheel crushed his chest into the ground.

When my friend Wesley showed up with an old Pettibone cable skidder we teamed up and bought a timber sale. Things were pretty cushy then. We felled the trees with chainsaws and Wes would pull them to the landing. We'd often take a break and brew a pot of coffee over an open fire and watch the deer wander into our cut, curious about the noise and eager to nibble the tender aspen tips. Grouse were common, too, and Wes would always say "dere's some partridge, where's dem dogs a'yours?"  I'd block and split the firewood at the landing and haul the processed firewood a half mile home in a trailer. Birch, ash and maple went for firewood and the aspen went to the mill. We had a liberal time frame to get the wood out so we worked that cut for a couple of years.

 No matter how large a pile of firewood you have, it doesn't last forever, and there came a time when I bought a couple of loads from a local logger. Blocking firewood from a neat pile of 100 inch sticks is almost gravy, but then the price of firewood kept climbing until it was comparable to buying propane.

We all have to grow up some time and a year-round job and new furnace meant I could take the firewood cutting a little less seriously. I still keep the wood stove stoked when I can and I have to believe it saves me some money, but I haven't bought any wood for years. The tractor is gone, the skidder is gone, and so is Wesley. I kinda like dropping a tree now and then during the winter and splitting it up for the wood shed. And I still like watching the deer and grouse come in. I hope I never become one of those folks sitting in front of a TV wondering how they can get more exercise.

It was 22 degrees below zero here this morning and I was in no hurry to get outside. But morning chores called so I booted up and pulled on a heavy coat figuring to make a quick trip to the kennel and loft and be back inside sipping coffee in no time.

We've had a pretty mild winter, so far, though yesterday things started cooling off. I had a halfway plan to open up the fly tying drawers and get busy tying to have a head start come spring, but I also know there is always firewood to cut and it seemed like a good day to get started. Just off the northwest corner of my house grows a red maple that I've had a sort of love/hate relationship with for many years. In the fall it is brilliant with it's beautiful crimson foliage, but as it's branches grow they reach out and rub the house. I've used ladders, pole saws, nippers and chainsaws trying to keep this tree in check, but last summer I realized I was going to have to do something drastic while I was standing on the edge of my roof with a fully extended gas-powered pole saw reaching as high as I could to trim overhanging branches. And like all red maples, they get only so big before the trunks start dying and they tip over. This tree is one of those three trunks from one stump and all three were leaning toward the house. Yesterday I cut it down. It took a ladder, a couple of chains and tow strap, a come-a-long and chainsaw, but now it's a pile of firewood. Of course it was a major project to make sure it fell away from the house, but I won't have to think about that one, anymore.

While I was out this morning I finished splitting the last of that maple. Those red maple get lots of branches and some twisted grain but the frozen blocks split pretty well. Then it was time for that coffee and breakfast. It felt pretty good.