The Woodshed That Never Was

WE lived in Whitney, Oregon, for more than eight years, and I never did build a woodshed. Even when I talked about it and measured a spot on the ground where it would go, I knew, deep down, that I wasn't going to build it. I just didn't want to say right out loud that I'd never actually get to it. Everybody has a woodshed.

But now that the Whitney times are behind us and we are quite modern, with electricity, plumbing, propane heat, and yes, a woodshed for the fireplace wood (I didn't build it), I can talk about why I never did build one in Whitney.

Some winters, I stacked wood in the barn and brought it to the house a part of a pickup load at a time, as needed. When I kept wood in the barn, I had to keep a road open to the barn. Every time we accumulated six or eight inches of new snow, I started the tractor and plowed through the corral, down the county road, and into the driveway. That was a fair amount of work, which kept me busy for up to half a day, including splitting wood, loading it, and unloading and stacking it on the porch and in the fro nt yard. I could split wood in the barn even during a heavy storm and take it over when the storm let up. Inside the barn, it was quiet and very cold, even colder than outside. The frozen dirt floor was a good foundation for splitting wood. I like the sense of security that came from looking at the 15 to 20 cords of wood I'd stacked in the bays on either side.

When I stacked wood in the yard, close to the front door, snow built up on the stack. I shoveled snow off the stack to get at the wood, and I cleared an area in front of the stack so I could sort and split wood. I shoveled the entire stack clear of snow several times a season, so that when the snow melted, the wood wouldn't get too wet.

When it was a good time of year to build a woodshed, I was irrigating meadows, cutting hay, cutting firewood, fixing ditches, and repairing fences. When it was a good time of year to use a woodshed, I had shifted into my winter gear. I wrote all I could, got into town and socialized some, and enjoyed time with my wife and daughters. I avoided building anything. But I did need to continue some physical activity.

I shoveled snow off the wood. I shoveled an area clear to work. I split and carried in wood. My daughters helped carry in kitchen wood. The bigger wood, for the back-room heater, I carried all the way through the house.

A guy who wrote an article on how to do this wood-heat thing right said to build a small door through the wall right by the heater. Stack your wood outside that wall, and shove it through the door right into the woodbox. Save thousands of steps. That's an excellent idea, if you want to save steps. I didn't want to save steps.

I wrote a while, got up, went out and worked on wood, came back and wrote some more, spent some time with my family, went out and shoveled snow and carried in more wood. Then I wrote some more.

A LITTLE at a time, as the day went, I took care of all the outdoor chores. By the time the day was done, I'd achieved a lot of indoor work, sedentary stuff, but I'd also done some vigorous work outside. It kept me awake. That and two or three walks day or night, and I didn't have to join a fitness club.

My mother didn't have a woodshed either, though I had promised for two or three years to build her one. She covered her wood with a sheet of plastic. After every storm, I drove over the mountain to Sumpter. If she hadn't done it, I shoveled the snow off her front walk. I shoveled a path from the back door to the wood stacked in the backyard. I swept the snow off the wood and chipped away the ice that built up on the back step. Most of the time, my mother carried in her wood, but sometimes she didn't feel

up to it, and I carried in enough for a few days.

When I stopped to see what she needed done, we visited for a while before I did the work. When I was through, we visited a while again. We talked about plans to take a few days to prospect for gold next summer. We wondered if the huckleberry crop would be good up Bald Mountain Road next summer. We compared memories of 30 or 40 years ago.

If she had a woodshed, or, more modern yet, if she had gas or electric heat, my visits wouldn't have been as necessary. I'm sure they would have been less frequent. I become absorbed in my own projects and don't leave home if I don't have to.

We followed work to earn a living away from northeastern Oregon and left my mother without a woodshed. I was concerned about that, but news from the area tells me it worked out the way it should. My brother stops by and helps her with wood, or my sister does. Sometimes people who aren't even part of the family stop by and help her with her wood or shovel off the walk and the woodpile and the back step. She might not get as many visits as she does if she had a woodshed convenient to the back door, with th e wood split and neatly stacked, ready for use.

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