Outdoor fun, outdoor work — It's all good

Now that summer is over — at least according to the calendar, not necessarily by the thermometer — we have to face the music and spend more time working in The Great Outdoors and less time playing.

Oh, sure, there are still ample opportunities to enjoy kayaking, hiking, biking, camping and other fun activities — like many of my friends, I paddle, run and even, however briefly, jump in the water for a swim all year long. But all of us who cut their own firewood, grow vegetables, build stonewalls and clear trails realize we can’t keep putting off chores that have been piling up for the past several months.

It’s not that I buy into Aesop’s fable about the industrious ant that spent the summer storing food and then selfishly refused to share any with the goof-off grasshopper. Though I can see how this tale might be popular today among hard-nosed politicians and their mean-spirited base, I shirk hard labor in summer not because I’ve been too busy singing and dancing like Aesop’s grasshopper but because I hate toiling in oppressive heat and humidity among clouds of stinging insects.

Anyway, for the past week or so, I’ve dusted off assorted saws, picks, pry bars and other tools, and trudged into the woods around our house.

First of all, my rule of thumb is there’s no such thing as too much firewood.

As of this writing, I have more than 10 cords of seasoned oak, birch, hickory and dogwood split, stacked and stored in two woodsheds. Another couple cords are piled under a tarp in the driveway. A giant oak that fell 100 yards from the house during a windstorm last month is mostly cut up; another large birch also lies on the ground, along with numerous widow-maker limbs from other trees (I always wear a hardhat, along with ear, eye and leg protection when I’m playing lumberjack). All those downed trees eventually must be bucked, sectioned and hauled to the woodsheds.

All told, I have enough firewood to last well into the 2020s.

If there’s time this fall, I’ll also transplant 200 or so replacement seedlings that are now growing in my makeshift nursery; otherwise, I’ll wait until next spring.

The birch tree has provided more than potential heat. The other day I sectioned two logs from the 16-inch-diameter trunk, dragged them on a dolly to the house, removed the bark with a special cutting chain that fits on an angle grinder, and finally smoothed the entire surface with a palm sander. These stumps now form the legs of a bench, with a 6-foot-long seat made of polished granite that a friend gave me.

I positioned this folk-art furniture next to our new wood stove, designed to produce 70,000 BTUs of heat and burn up to 11 hours between stokings. It took four of us to carry this 450-pound, cast iron behemoth up the steep stairs to the house. I’m looking forward to sitting next to this stove with a book on cold winter nights — if there ever is another real winter.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been lugging the last of my neighbor’s grass clippings up to the garden, and as soon as our last tomatoes ripen, I’ll turn over the vegetable beds and spread the pile of compost that has been brewing all summer. Sometime before the ground freezes, I’ll also have to plant garlic.

In another couple weeks, the leaves will have to be raked from our driveway and the network of trails around the house. I then haul them in barrels for spreading around seedlings and over the garden.

At some point before the pond freezes, I’ll have to uncouple our floating dock and tow it by kayak to a neighbor’s beach, where it will remain until spring.

There are stone walls that need shoring up, blueberry bushes that require pruning, bittersweet vines that have to be hacked down — I’m getting exhausted just thinking about all the work that lies ahead.

Now, a confession: It really isn’t work. Truth be told, I derive about as much pleasure from outdoor labor as outdoor play — and wind up with something to show for my labors.

It would be far simpler to let an oil furnace heat the house, plant a big lawn and hire a neighbor’s kid to mow it, and buy all our vegetables at the supermarket — but what fun is that?




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