For most folks February is considered to be the middle of winter. If there is going to be snow, sleet, wind and tree-cracking cold this will be the month for it. No one I know wants to think about next winter when we’re not even safely through the current season, but in recent years I have made it a habit to start getting in next year’s firewood during the February thaw. It gives me something to do outdoors and it generates optimism and satisfaction in knowing that there will be seasoned fuel for the stove next February. And, when the job is done, there’s a feeling of wealth and accomplishment that few other winter chores can match. I don’t know why but I derive a great deal of contentment from having next season’s wood cut, split and under cover before the end of February. It’s just one less thing to worry about.
This year I took advantage of the low snow cover and uneventful weather forecasts to cut and haul my wood to the front of the woodshed. I’m fortunate to have plenty of oak, ash and maple of the one-split variety, trees that are about 16 inches through that require just one whack of the maul to split into stove-sized chunks.
I am one of those who still use a hand maul to split my wood. It’s considered old-fashioned in the extreme, I know, but motorized splitters are expensive, noisy and, quite honestly, too slow. I know for a fact that I can split four pieces of wood to one on the gas splitter, and if I take the time to set a dozen chunks on end I can split them all before the gas splitter’s ram can be reset. Not that it’s a race, of course, but it’s good to know that I still have “it” after more than 50 years behind a maul.
On a good day I’ll spend about two hours splitting, and then the next day I’ll spend an hour or so piling what I’ve split. At this pace I can get all of my wood under cover in a little over a week, which is pretty good considering the result of my labor is going to keep me warm all through next winter.
My house is small and requires only four cords of good hardwood to do the job, which, over a week’s time, is not that big a project. Maine’s earliest settlers burned 25 to 40 cords of wood per year and most of that was four-foot wood split in half. Now that is what I would call serious work, especially considering they did not have chainsaws, tractors, trucks or any of the modern implements we use today to make getting wood in much easier. In fact, one firewood supplier I know admits that no human hands touch the wood from the time the trees are felled to the time it’s cut, split and delivered. The entire process is done by machine. I suppose I would do the same if I were in the business of selling firewood but my measly four cords are factored in as part of my living year. The job does not seem unbearable when each aspect is performed in small doses. I cut a few trees at a time, work them up as I have time and, by the end of February, the job is done.
Of course, we’ve been fortunate in recent years to have had mild winters, longer thaws and not much snow compared to what’s considered normal. This time around there was a mere crust of snow about 3 inches thick in my logging road, and the area in front of the wood shed, where I do my cutting and splitting, was frozen but completely bare. Splitting was actually fun because the hard ground stood up to the steady thump of the maul and my production was actually greater this year because the wood was frozen as well. Clear, frozen hardwood splits easily with no binding or sticking, which makes the job go that much faster.
I rather enjoy the process of getting my own wood in even though most folks consider it to be hard labor. I suppose one could make it a lot harder than it needs to be but I don’t let the work become a job. I take breaks, I goof off, watch the birds and pause for coffee or tea all through the process. I work “when the spirit moves” and then pull up a chunk of wood and relax for a bit before getting back into it. The work needs to be done, of course, and it will be, but not all at once. It’s actually surprising how much one person can accomplish if they just stay busy and keep forging steadily ahead.
I noticed that I wasn’t the only one plugging away on the wood pile. Almost as soon as I completed stacking a row of wood the resident red squirrel began gathering leaves, twigs and old bits of paper towel (which he’d stolen from my work bench) and began making a new nest. Old nests get torn down as the wood pile disappears but the squirrels waste no time in rebuilding. They definitely work faster than I do and take fewer breaks. By the time I’m finished with the next row of wood the nest is ready for occupancy. As they say, a good time was had by all.
I finished working on next winter’s wood last week just as the next round of snowstorms began drifting in under gray skies. Forecasters said we were in for about a week of snow, sleet and cold but I felt pretty good about the whole thing as I secured the doors to the wood shed and headed for the house. I’ll open the doors again in spring so the wood can dry properly, but I won’t have to touch another stick till October. Like I said, it like having money in the bank!