Thursday, February 28, 2013

Old feller fells his firewood

               Making firewood:  part 1

    An extreme  weather alert arrives by e-mail from our community emergency preparedness organization: a Pineapple Express is on its way from the Pacific. While much of Canada has struggled with cold, wind and snow this winter, the West Coast has been wet and mild. The mud on my driveway and the still half-full woodshed tells me so too. The name is descriptive of a mass of warm air being sucked up from the tropical North Pacific and pushed onto Vancouver island. Very heavy rain, possible floods and warm Springlike air. By March we expect only a couple of weeks more of possible snow anyway, so this may be Spring: already buds are breaking and soon the frogs will be busy singing in the Pond.

The first shoots of water iris emerge 
This morning I rush out to get some chores done before rain becomes deluge and then go back for my camera. Those water iris shoots, so clean and green, are fascinating, combined with all the raindrops on the surface of a pond. And while my eyes are alert I will photograph the rain glazed salal and mossy branches. In fact, why not document my wood cutting project that started a month ago with the felling of two trees. Today, having cut the trees into rounds I will begin splitting those rounds, some of them three feet or more across, into firewood. Firewood that once split will be stacked into rows, covered to keep the rain off and allowed to air dry until next Fall when I will haul them uphill and replenish the woodshed for next winter’s wood fires that heat our home. Thinking and planning ahead is as important for us on our little island piece of land as it would be for those in the fast lane in the city. Perhaps even more so.

Years ago I cut trees down on a regular basis, and just last year I felled several for a lumber making project, but usually I cut but once a year and only one or two trees at that. It is difficult to keep in practice and therefore things become that much more dangerous. Both of these trees had their potential problems: the maple was part of a much larger stump, leaned heavily and must be cut high up and in an unusual way; the danger with this leaning maple, which can be brittle, was of a premature and unpredictable break while I was still mucking about at its base. I looked at this tree for a long time before making a start but, after undercut and back-cutting, it creaked in time to warn me and I slid down the step ladder and scuttled away, chainsaw in hand, as it crashed to earth. Kaboom!!

 Beginning the next stage of making firewood
 The next, a big Grand Fir with a multiple crown, looked to be easy in comparison, but it resisted my efforts to fell it against its strangely weighed top hamper, and I ended up using a cable and come-along winch plus multiple wedges before it too measured its length, a hundred feet or more, parallel with the maple. It must have taken me two hours to bring it down, sweating anxiously all the while.

And then the seemingly endless work of cutting these tree trunks into firewood-long lengths: partly buried in the ground by the crash of their falling, they were also so heavy it was difficult to cut them into sections of five and roll them out to make the final cuts that separated them. I was aware that this was hard work for my ageing body, so I walked hard and long every day to keep in general shape and restricted the repetitive heavy wood work to only an hour or two every day. Now, at last I will be combining splitting, another repetitive exercise, with gathering all the branches and burning them, and I will continue walking.

Is all this worth it? At $250. a cord ( a cord of wood is usually described as stacked 4'x4'x8' ) , and at four cords per winter that is a lot of money for us retired folks, but there are more valuable considerations as well. Yes I risk my life, but I have the satisfaction to be gained from planning for and solving the felling of these trees, side by side, just where I wanted them. I get that thrill from the mighty crash, the flying shards of shattered tops. I get exercise, both from walking and from the work of turning trees into firewood. What doesn't kill me in the short term makes me strong, confident and self reliant. That is something to be valued at any age!

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