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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Two gnarly hands

Left to right: butternut squash baking in a flat-bottomed
Dutch oven; a pan of duck eggs slowly becoming "hard-boiled";
tea water, dishwashing water.

We have heated, and sometimes cooked or heated water, with wood for 33 years. Averaging three cords a year, we've reached about the 100 cord mark. Most of this has been Douglas fir salvaged from reject wood on and around landings, left over from logging operations. We've also used Western hemlock, Western red cedar, Ponderosa pine, logepole pine, red alder, Oregon ash, Oregon black oak, wild cherry, viney maple, bigleaf maple, assorted willows, cottonwood, and the large and medium prunings from apple, plum, pear, and filbert.

Much of what we have burned in the stoves is typically burned by our neighbors in trash piles. But we try to use everything we can on our acre, down to a certain size, for household energy, and the rest -- the twigs and leaves -- is scattered to feed the soil. Whatever will go into the mower's grasscatcher is carried to garden beds, and much of the rest piled around the feet of the various fruit trees. Yes, it takes a stick a long time to break down to the point where it will feed a fruit tree, but it will do it.

Now that I'm freed up, by virtue of old age, from the forty-hour week, I can cruise the free box at Craigslist for other kinds of salvage opportunities. The local utility is removing a small grove of lodgepole pines from their power lines across the back of a young man's property, and he being all-electric has made the logs available in order to get his yard cleaned up.

Getting at them means climbing down an eight-foot embankment and returning slowly, with each chunk, sometimes four feet long, on a shoulder. And the footing is made treacherous by vinca, ivy, and mud. Way too much for a sixty-year-old lady, but, oh my, I want that wood! So I have hired my youngest son, a powerful man, to get the pieces to where I can go with them to the pickup with a wheelbarrow.

We're taking a break for Thanksgiving, but so far the truck has made seven trips. I estimate there are ten to go. Lest anyone think we are nickel-and-diming ourselves to death, this one Craiglist ad represents about fifteen hundred dollars' worth of winter fuel at current pricing.

I'll be gnawing at this woodpile, GWATCDR, for two years, getting it all down to stove size, stacked, and dried, then carried into the house bit by bit, in winter sunshine, rain, ice, and fog. Sometimes the surrounding hills will be visible, sometimes shrouded in deep, chilling mist, sometimes they will be as white as a New Hampshire calendar photo.

But I will have enough to do of work that I've always found interesting and enjoyable; it will (hopefully) keep me limber into my latter years, and the mugs of hot home-grown cider, held between two gnarly hands, will be good.


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