I’ve always loved the smell of woodsmoke. I know this is not the case for everyone and that too many wood stoves in a small residential area can cause concern. I am lucky to live in a part of town where few people heat with wood. These days, my woodsmoke saga begins in late August, with the purchase and delivery of four cords of wood, split and cut into 16-inch lengths to fit in our stove.
Split is a very optimistic term because almost every piece needs to be fed through an electric log splitter. This is in order to make the pieces manageable for our 70-year-old backs and arms. It is a job that I actually enjoy. I like seeing the huge, untidy pile of wood gradually transformed into a wood shed filled with a neat stack of firewood ready for winter. All that is left of the pile are scraps to be raked up—some for kindling and some for the compost.
The way the routine has worked out in our household, I have the job of wood hauler, splitter, maker of kindling and gatherer of twigs. Every morning, soon after breakfast, I head out for a walk with our dog. Outside our back gate is forest, all the way west to Alaska and the Pacific. I have come to know the local trail system very well. One of the things I noticed in the forest, when I started this routine was that many trees snap off, in strong winds or with a heavy snow load, and leave a twiggy skeleton on the ground. Once it has been there for a couple of years, those small branches make the most efficient fire starter I have ever used. So, on my dog walks, I gather armloads of dry twigs from these fallen trees and stockpile them in a bin outside the house. Once the wood stove is in regular use, we keep a space in the garage filled with big pieces of firewood, kindling and an old coal shuttle filled with these dry twigs.
As I go out on these morning walks, it is the smell of woodsmoke, from the chimney, that accompanies me and greets me on my return.
Last winter I cleaned the chimney for the first time. The thaw/freeze cycles in mid-January had resulted in a layer of creosote around the chimney cap, and the chimney was not drawing properly. As my husband was away, I decided that I would clean it. Our roof is not particularly high, and the chimney is quite close to one side. I chopped the ladder out of the snow and ice and hauled it around to the side of the house, closest to the chimney, and cleared a spot for it to stand. At full extension, the ladder just barely protruded above the eavestrough, but the job looked simple enough.
I wore black. I thought that was an appropriate colour for a chimney sweep and would disguise the soot that would be an inevitable side effect of the job. I readied the equipment: pliers to undo the screws that held the cap, wire and bristle brushes, the chimney brush and the three lengths of yellow rod that screw together. It turned out to be a little tricky, as the roof was covered in snow and ice. Both the tools and I had to be on the upside of the chimney to prevent them or me from sliding off.
I found the best tactic was to hug the chimney with a foot on either side. Then I had both hands free to undo the screws on the cap and manipulate the rods. This meant that my face was close enough to the chimney cap to taste the creosote. All went well until I attempted to pull the brush back up the chimney—a very difficult thing to get started, as the stiff bristles oriented themselves, pointing up on the downward descent, and were quite stubborn about reversing direction. While I was up there, a friend came by and was horrified by my activity. He refused to leave until I was back on the ground with the job done. Actually, it all went pretty smoothly. And it worked. The chimney once again worked as it was supposed to. And my old black parka now has a permanent smell of woodsmoke.
Autumn is in the air, once again, and the annual firewood ritual has started. The wood has been delivered, and as I set out on my morning walk, the wonderful smell of woodsmoke is in the air.