Friday, July 13, 2007

wood cutting

I have a hard time getting enthused about woodcutting until August or so. At that point it is still hot, but the prospect of September's cooling off and the chill in October are easy to see in the calendar and even feel in the weather. I've been looking more at the calendar recently- the drawing results for the various big game hunts have come in, which tends to firm up fall plans somewhat as various hunts are marked off. This year it wasn't too hard to mark things off. I can't complain, as I drew an elk tag, but that was the only tag of four that I put in for, only one of which was a long shot. Better luck would have meant two elk hunts and a deer hunt. Really good luck would have added antelope to that list. Nevertheless, that calendar gazing made me realize that it is time to sharpen chains, buy a permit, and get some wood stacked!

I try to cut aspen and pinon. The drought of the last few years allowed thousands of pinon here in the southwest to be killed by bark beetles. That heavy, pitch-filled, slow-growing, aromatic wood can be cut with good conscience for the next couple of years until the bug-killed trees are too rotten to burn well. Aspen, while burning fast, burns hot and clean. It is a delight to cut, split, and stack. It grows fast and any decent-sized stand usually has a couple of green blowdowns you can cut up and haul off.

Here around the Southwest mountains, you have to get out early in the day and get your wood cut before the afternoon thunderstorms that gather nearly every afternoon drench you. The rains have been spotty down where I live, but there have been nice caps of clouds over the mountains making it look like they are getting a decent share.

I don't cut wood from necessity. With the high price of gas, I'm not even sure I come out ahead economically. I have an inefficient fireplace and live in an urban area with burn restrictions. Nonetheless, I go through a couple of cords of wood every winter and count myself lucky for the opportunity. The crackle and radiant heat of a fire, not to mention the perfume of aspen and especially pinon in an evening are one of the joys of winter. Laying on the couch with a cat on my chest, a small measure of single malt next to a tall glass of water at my side, and a warm bed of coals glowing as I read a book makes me feel far more rich than bank balance or physical assets would indicate.

Last winter I had a bunch of wood from the year before and only cut once. This year I'm down to a couple of cubic feet, so I'll need to get busy.

P.s.- the best essay on cutting wood I know of is by Aldo Leopold. I'd guess that any reader here is probably well familiar with A Sand County Almanac and has their own opinion on that. Another fine book that mentions wood cutting and burning in a more than trivial fashion is Rick Bass' "Winter", which you all might not have read. If not, check it out.

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