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Get Wood!

There is an old saying that firewood heats you twice.  If you’ve never heated with wood before, spend a day cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood and you’ll fully understand the meaning of that phrase.  My parents grew up in an age before central heat and air.  In the cold winter months, you burned wood to stay warm.  In the hot and humid summer months, you kept the windows open and prayed for a breeze to stay cool, especially at night when you were trying to sleep.  

When I was a child, we lived in a nice home with an oil furnace that heated the entire house, but my parents bought a Buck Stove fireplace insert and used that to heat with wood in order to save money.  They were both from a generation that was taught to be frugal, work hard, and save.  My mom loved a cozy fire though.  Often, she would open the doors of the stove and sit on the hearth near the flames.  Nothing heats like fire either.  It is a warm, dry, radiant heat that warms you to the bone.  Aside from the warmth, the fire also tickles your other senses.  You can hear the flames crackle and pop.  You can smell the split, seasoned oak along with the woodsmoke wafting up the chimney flue.  Lastly, you can watch the embers glimmering below the logs while the flames dance merrily on top.  If it’s nighttime, turn the lights out and enjoy the orange glow from the fire and the flickering shadows the flames cast upon the walls.  All wonderful, right?  Well, yes, but until I was eight years old, I thought my name was Get Wood. 

Cozy Hearth

Nothing in life is free and there is a cost for enjoying the simple pleasures of a fire on the hearth.  I remember many Saturday mornings when my Dad would be outside before the sun came up, patiently sharpening his chainsaw.  We’d be in the woods right when the sky began to turn gray with dawn and my Dad would crank that chainsaw and start felling trees.  I remember sitting in the truck and praying that just once that saw would not crank, but it was a Stihl and it cranked faithfully.  Every time.  Anyhow, Dad would cut for a little while and then I would get out and start loading the truck.  I could not throw the wood into the truck, I had to stack it in the truck so that we could haul as much as possible.  I also had to pile all the brush up too.  Once the front end of the truck was high in the air and the tail end of the truck was sitting on the rear axle, Dad would declare that we had a full load and we would pack it in and head home.

Think that was the end of my day?  Oh heck no.  Dad would pull the truck around to the woodshed and then he was off to work on some other job.  My job was to unload the truck, split the wood, and then stack it in the woodshed.  It was hard work, but I enjoyed it.  There is something satisfying about splitting a log with one swing of the maul.  There is also something very satisfying about seeing a neat stack of firewood in the woodshed and knowing that you did that! 

Fast forward many years.  Mom and Dad grew older and eventually put in central heat and air.  Their home is now heated with propane, but I carried on the tradition for many years after I married.  My wife and I heated our home with an indoor Fisher Mama Bear wood stove.  I remember many evenings; we’d come home from work to a freezing house.  I’d build a fire in the stove and we’d stand on each side of the stove waiting for it to warm up.  Neither of us ever thought of it as “hard times”.  We talked about many things around that stove.  We were both young and full of dreams and it was a happy time in our lives.

As we grew older, our family grew and so did our house.  One indoor wood burning stove was not enough to heat it evenly, so we added another and it did not take long for me to realize that maintaining two indoor woodburning stoves was impractical (and a heck of a lot of work too).  I had to get up every morning around 2:00 AM to put more wood in the stoves and that got old fast.  The solution?  A Hardy outdoor wood burning boiler furnace!  Yep.  We bought one and heated with it for another 15 years.  It kept the house warm and toasty and it heated our water too.  We never ran out of hot water.  I saved a good bit of money burning wood because out in the country where we lived there were only three options for heat: wood, propane, and electricity.  The cost of propane would fluctuate wildly, from reasonable to unaffordable, but never cheap.  The cost of electricity was stable, but it was also high.  The Hardy stove boasted a 24 hour burn time, but I had to load wood in it twice a day – once in the morning before work, and once in the evening before bed.  At least I was getting to sleep through the night now, but the Hardy was a hungry beast with an appetite for wood that could never be sated.  In the cold months, I burned a full-sized pickup load of firewood every week.  Toward the end, I was so sick of cutting wood and splitting wood that I started buying wood and that was even more expensive than the propane or electricity.  We finally sold the Hardy, or as I called it, The Beast.  Some poor sucker is feeding it now and thinking they are saving a ton of money.  Want to know how much I saved burning firewood?  Maybe enough to pay for the surgery to fix my thumbs where picking up logs over the course of years has worn the cartilage away to nothing. 

We still have our indoor wood burning stoves and a fireplace too.  I keep one truckload of seasoned wood in the woodshed for emergencies such as power outages and ice storms, but now, when I’m cold I roll up my sleeves, crack my knuckles, and tap that thermostat until my heat pump kicks on. 

Wood Burning Stove

“Before enlightenment; Chop wood, carry water.

After enlightenment; Chop wood, carry water.”

~Zen Koan

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Ahctober

Well, it is officially autumn, and October is just around the corner.  Every year, after a long cold winter, I proclaim, “May is my favorite month!”  And then, every year, after a long hot summer, I proclaim, “October is my favorite month!”  October assails our senses with pure and simple pleasures like blue skies and yellow sunshine, red and gold leaves, and orange pumpkins.  There are delicious foods to smell and taste.  Things like pumpkin pies, apple cider, and spiced coffees.  There are bonfires with toasted marshmallows, roasted wieners, and smores.  There are warm days with bright mornings and soft, golden afternoons and there are cool nights fit for sweaters, blankets, and snuggling.  How can you not love it?

Autumn on the Farm

As the days grow colder and shorter, the holidays are fast upon us.  First Halloween, the crowning event of Autumn. When we wake up the following day, although we still have Thanksgiving to celebrate and much to be thankful for, there is an eagerness to put away the oranges and browns of Autumn and to pull out the reds and greens of the Christmastide.  These last three months of the year are filled with anticipation, hope, and joy and they pass us by too quickly.  Then, in the dark cold nights of January, I shiver and I pull the blankets over my head and dream of May.

Fall on the Farm

“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves, we have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!” ~ Humbert Wolfe

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Forgotten, but not Gone

Ever drive down the road and pass an old, abandoned farmhouse?  Of course, you have.  Have you ever wondered who lived there?  Was it a big, happy family?  Or was it a lonely spinster?  Why is the house now abandoned and in disrepair?  I often wonder these things, because in my short time here on this earth I have seen houses go from thriving centers of happiness and activity to forlorn and dilapidated structures with sagging roofs and broken windows.

Abandoned Farmhouse

I see one of these houses and I think, someone had a “last night” in that house.  A “last meal”.  A “last birthday”.  A “last Christmas”.  There is a long list of “lasts” in our lives and sadly, we cannot remember most of them.  Do you remember the last time you sat in your mother’s lap?  Or the last time your dad pitched baseball with you?  Do you remember the last meal you had with your grandparents?  Or the last time you read a book to your child? 

Abandoned Farmhouse

Thank God for your blessings.  Live each day and cherish each experience as if it were your “last”.  It just might be!

“Lost things are not last things…” ~Ayaan

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Tree Houses, Forts, Hideouts, and Clubhouses

I was rummaging through the books on our shelves today and came across “The Dangerous Book for Boys”.  I bought both of our boys one of these books in 2008.  I signed each book as such…

This is an awesome book, packed full of knowledge all little boys should know, from tying knots to making paper airplanes.  One of the sections covered building a tree house and I tried to recall all the tree houses, forts, hideouts, and clubhouse I had occupied over the course of my childhood.  There were many.

Tree House

My first treehouse was one my father built for me.  It was not much, just some scrap lumber, lovingly crafted together to make a platform beneath the canopy of a persimmon tree that grew along our pasture fence line.  My Dad later moved my swing set down under that tree and I can fondly recall many happy hours I spent playing there.

Clubhouse

There is just something about a pile of lumber that calls to little boys.  When I grew old enough to wield a hammer and saw, I wanted to build my own tree house.  I wanted my next one to be bigger, I wanted it to be higher, and I wanted it to have a trap door with a rope ladder.  So, I when I was ready to build it, I moved to the next tree down the fence line (which happened to also be another persimmon tree) and I built my “grand” tree house.  It was much higher off the ground.  It was twice as big.  It had a trap door AND a rope ladder.  But you know what?  I did not have as much fun in my new and grander tree house as I did in that simple one my Dad built for me. 

Rafting

Isn’t that how life is for most of us?  We are always in search of the next biggest and better thing and oftentimes, what we leave behind in our quests, turns out to be exactly what we needed all along. 

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.  Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” 

~Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

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Berry Picking and Wool Gathering

Why is it that blueberries ripen during the hottest and most humid days of summer? This evening will find me balancing precariously on a step ladder, leaning over and reaching for the biggest and plumpest berries that always seem to grow just out of reach at the top of the bush. We had an afternoon shower today and that cooled us off to a balmy 90 degrees but it also shot the humidity level even higher. Honestly, I look out the window and I start sweating. Anyhow, back to my story of how miserable it will be out there. If it were just the heat and humidity, that would be enough, but the sweat will drench my clothes and sting my eyes. It is a constant battle against the gnats, flies, and ants. But once these berries start to ripen, they will continue to ripen at such a pace that you have to pick them every day. Also, if you miss a day you may be sure that the birds (who love blueberries) will not.

Berry Picking

We currently have 18 young bushes on our farm and have plans to add even more. We will hire out help to pick these bushes when they mature and we will sell these berries along with our other farm products, but for our own personal stash of blueberries, I pick 3 bushes at my parent’s farm. One of the bushes is old and massive. From this bush alone I pick enough berries to fill our freezer and last my wife and I (we make smoothies with them for breakfast) for an entire year. I also gather a lot of wool from these bushes.

Wool Gather: verb: indulge in aimless thoughts and daydreams.

As hot and miserable as it might be outside, my mind soon begins to “gather wool” as my fingers deftly pluck the hanging berries and drop them into my bucket. Time passes quickly when you begin to “gather wool” and before you know it, your bucket is full. What kind of wool do I gather? Whatever kind pleases me. I may recount a childhood adventure, I may think of a long lost friend, I may even revisit Christmases of yesteryear while the sweat drips from my brow. I look forward to my berry picking. It makes me stop and pause from my busy routine. It gives me a chance to remember, reflect. It gives me an opportunity to recall some long forgotten memory that warms my heart and makes me smile. I like picking berries. And gathering wool.

Gathering Wool

My thoughts ran a wool-gathering. ~ Miguel de Cervantes