Firewood: Then and Now

Firewood was a least-loved childhood chore, everything to do with firewood, but especially the process of getting it from the forest into the woodshed.

The weather was either too hot or dark and grey-snow-cold. Woodchips got everywhere — in eyes, hair, and under clothes.

The first part of the day was spent under the constant hum of chainsaws, hauling branches from fallen trees to one pile or another. I’d inevitably try to grab too many branches; I’d trip over stick ends, and always ended up whipping myself in the face.

Frustration bubbled hot.

Somehow my dad thought the job would be fun if he’d do his trick, using gas to light piles of green branches on fire, but it didn’t make the task pleasurable.

After the branches were cleared from grounded trees, I’d go along the length of what was now a bucked log, and stand pieces of firewood on end. Someone stronger than me would follow with a maul, splitting each piece with one mighty swing. The crack of the maul joined the chainsaw’s whine.

We’d stop for lunch, some kind of thick-cut leftover meat on tough brown bread, and sweet black tea from a thermos. After lunch I’d be tired and cold, and it seemed impossible that the most physically intensive job was ahead: loading the wood into the truck, stacked, for maximum carrying capacity.

Some people thought it was more efficient to chuck two pieces of wood into the truck at once; I thought it was better to throw in one at a time, but more rapidly. Loading the truck was usually the point my brother and I would start fighting in earnest.

I hated getting firewood.

Now, I’m carried away with a romantic nostalgia for the job. I don’t even have a fireplace, but I do manage to get out and help with wood at least three times a year.

It’s all the same, but I love it now. I know to arrange branches so they drag in the same direction. I still get slapped in the face, and it still annoys the hell out of me.

I love the sizzle of green spruce boughs on an obnoxious-sized bonfire.

I don’t buck wood because I learned it’s better if daydreamers don’t operate chain saws, but I can swing a maul. One of life’s purest satisfactions is to split a row of rounds with one swing each.

I pack better lunches now, but there’s still tea.

I’m still cold and tired after lunch; it’s hard to get started again. But the swing, rhythm, and heat generated from chucking wood into the back of a pick-up truck is the perfect antidote against frigidity and fatigue. Now I accidentally end up meditating when I load wood into backs of pick-up trucks.

I keep my eye out for standing deads when I’m driving down the highway. I don’t have a license to cut them, or a stove to feed them to, but it’s engrained in me.

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