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    Wednesday, April 17, 2024

    Happiness is a full woodshed

    Terry Fedors, left, and Bob Graham, toss split logs into a woodshed. (Steve Fagin)
    This pile of free firewood on the side of the road is now destined for the wood stove. (Steve Fagin)
    The shed is nearly filled. (Steve Fagin)

    Whenever and wherever I hike, my eyes often bypass healthy, living trees – even maples, resplendent in autumn’s crimson foliage, or verdant birches in spring – while seeking out a lifeless, barren trunk covered with lichen, turkey tail fungus and invasive vines.

    “There’s one,” I say to myself. “More firewood.”

    Those of us who heat our homes with wood are always on the prowl for free fuel.

    Decades ago, when I first started heating with a wood stove, I would spend hours traipsing through the woods behind our house, hunting for fallen limbs and toppled trees. But in recent years, firewood supplies have been much more abundant, thanks to a variety of factors.

    First of all, countless oak, ash and beech trees have fallen victim to gypsy moths, emerald ash borers, beech leaf disease and bittersweet vines. Increasingly violent storms due to climate change also have taken a toll.

    In addition, logging crews have been thinning roadside trees more aggressively to protect power, telephone and cable company lines. What’s more, many older trees now are reaching the end of their lifespans.

    Finally, fewer people these days are heating with wood. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that the number of households in this country that rely on wood heat has been declining for the past decade – down from 2.5 million in 2014 to about 1.7 million now.

    In short, it’s been a buyer’s market for self-styled lumberjacks like me.

    The other day, my neighbors, Terry and Sandy Fedors, not only gave me a huge stash of firewood that Terry had cut and split next to their house, but helped me and fellow neighbor Bob Graham load the logs onto Bob’s trailer and deliver them to my new woodshed.

    Then, Terry even thanked me for helping him remove the pile!

    “We used to have a wood stove,” Terry told me, but when he and his wife moved, there wasn’t a good place in their new home for it. Terry said he still enjoys cutting and splitting wood, which turns out to be the perfect symbiotic relationship: exercise for him, and more wood for me. Too much is never enough.

    I have great neighbors. Bob not only often helps load and deliver firewood, but provided technical advice and manual labor when I built my new (and third) woodshed; Ackley and Jeannie Hollister filled their pickup truck with a separate load of firewood; John Rodolico, our former mayor, regularly delivers bags of raked leaves that I use for garden mulch; I provide John and his wife, Joyce, with home-grown garlic.

    Although we’re nearing the end of winter, my toil won’t stop. There are always trees to cut, logs to split, sheds to fill – not that I’m complaining. As Terry noted, it’s good exercise – cheaper than going to a gym.

    The other day I had to use an old-fashioned, 6-foot hand saw to finish cutting oak logs when the chain saw stalled.

    Bob and I together own a 40-ton hydraulic splitter, but it can only reach logs near my new woodshed at the end of the driveway, not the two woodsheds on a rocky hill behind the house. I use a variety of hand tools to split wood for those sheds: maul, sledge hammer, peavy, wedges and axe.

    Heating with wood also requires hauling wood to the sheds, carrying seasoned loads to the house, constantly stoking the stove, shoveling ashes and replenishing kindling.

    This year, I made a happy discovery: Pine cones are wonderful fire-starters. You don’t even need paper or twigs, just a handful of the flammable, resin-coated cones, and a match, to get a good blaze going.

    Fellow hikers undoubtedly have noticed that just as this winter has been a “mast” year for abundant acorns, it also has yielded copious pine cones – the woodsman’s equivalent of manna from heaven.

    As has been my decades-long practice, when spring comes, I’ll also be putting in new tree seedlings to replace the ones I’ve cut down. Over the years, I’ve planted about 5,000.

    Those who heat with wood can take comfort in the fact that trees are a renewable resource. A study by Nature magazine reports that about 228 billion of the world’s more than 3.1 trillion trees grow in the United States. What’s more, despite widespread development, there are more trees in this country now than there were a century ago, the study notes.

    Of course, we value trees not just for firewood, maple syrup, fruit, nuts, shade, erosion control and oxygen, but for their elegant, intrinsic beauty.

    As Joyce Kilmer once wrote, “I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree.”

    Even a dead one, I might add.

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