All last summer I didn’t cut a lick of firewood, and that made me happy as a lark. Or, actually, it didn’t, since I was busy with worse things than cutting firewood, but still the concept of not having to cut any was a tiny little lamp of goodness burning in my heart on low. Over the years I’ve come to see cutting firewood as a chore, involving all sorts of gear which inevitably fails only after you’ve driven umpteen miles into the wilderness, after having surmounted fourteen hundred obstacles just for the pleasure of being there in the horsefly-infested woods to then have to turn around and go home without any wood at all and figure out why the infernal chainsaw would not operate. It wasn’t the work I didn’t like, it was the gear. Chainsaws are not my friends, for the most part. To me, they’re like those officials I used to have to bribe to get basic necessities when I lived in Nepal. You never know what they really want, they can totally screw up your day, not to mention your life, they have no principles to speak of, and they need constant attention. I never minded the hard work of cutting firewood; I’ll tote, lift, stack and haul until my skin wears through. It isn’t really a problem for me since I can be out there with the flies and the skies and my thoughts, uninterrupted by anything but the occasional flutter of expectation when I see a moose moving awkwardly in the distance – but let the machinery just work for once.
So it was with trepidation that I approached this recurrence of the need to cut firewood, especially in the middle of winter, with 900 feet of snow on the ground. My chainsaws, bless their cold, dark, calculating little hearts, had been languishing out in the cold garage, untended since last fall. They were all encrusted with old sawdust and oil and their chains were dull as arithmetic, taught by a dour old bachelor, with a bow tie and rancid pomade in his hair. They hate me. They always have, and now they do so even more, since I neglected them for the shiny wonder that was supposed to be solar heat. They want to rip my duplicitous, disloyal, gullible heart out by its roots and feed on its blood. I know they do. That’s why they refused to start.
At least they refused to start this time at home, so there weren’t all those miles to traverse before being disappointed. I have plenty of standing dead trees right here on my own property. It wasn’t until I’d taken them into the house for a few hours to warm up, then taken them out to the garage to scrape away the crud, wipe them down, gas and oil them properly and sharpen their devilish little teeth as best I could that one of them coughed into life. It was the old Stihl. Mr. Cranky. Of course I can’t sharpen a chainsaw chain for love nor money, so in spite of all my sawing away at it it was still dull, but I persevered, and, after donning my snowshoes, trekked over to Mr. Standing Dead Tree and introduced him to Mr. Cranky. They did what they had to do.
“This is easy!” I thought, cutting the tree into wood stove-sized blocks right there in the snow, never having to worry about hitting the ground with the chainsaw since the ground was a few feet beneath the snow. It was a little awkward maneuvering around the downed tree to take off its limbs on my snowshoes, since you can’t back up, but I made do. And yes, Virginia, even a dull chainsaw will cut through snowshoes made of aircraft-grade aluminum. Keep that in mind.
Normally I’d have to take the blocked wood and load it in the pickup, then drive it home, unload it, split it, stack it, and then haul it into the house bit by dirty little bit, tracking in mud and snow and bits of bark all the while, but now Mr. Standing Dead Tree was closer to my house than it ever would have been to my pickup, so all I had to do was carry it into the house. Of course I was tracking the inevitable bits of bark and sawdust everywhere, but compared to my experiences of the past 15 years of heating my homes with wood, this wasn’t bad. Not at all. And cheaper, as it happens, than solar. But you don’t want me to go there. No, you don’t.
At least its cheaper than the fancy solar-thermal system I put in which would work if all its parts weren’t mis-matched and broken despite the fact that they’re brand-new. But nothing could be cheaper than the passive solar. Back in the deepest and darkest of winter my house got an unexpectedly slim portion of direct sunlight each day, due to the unfortunate and unforeseen arrangements of the surrounding mountains, but now, a scant month or two after the worst, the sunlight guns through those windows all day long, heating the place even without a boiler or the solar panels or the wood stove. I’m really impressed. All I have to do is light that fire after the sun goes down, and I’m good to go. My old house was famous for having the latest lick of sunlight in winter, with the light only leaving at about 3, whereas all my neighbors lost their light at 1:30 or 2. Here I get bright, hard, fiercely warm light until 6, so even though I lost a lot in December and January, I’m gaining sunny ground fast. And my windows and thermal mass walls work wonders. Kiss them! Come and Kiss My Walls!
And throw a bloody mess of sacrificial meat to my chainsaws so that their devilish little teeth stay sharp and they start every time. Grrrr.