Wood warmed me, winter and summer

The sun rose in a cold winter sky above frosted mountain ridges when we took care of the ranch in northeastern Oregon. The thermometer hanging on a nail on the porch post said 10 degrees below zero F. New snow squeaked under my feet. The earliest sunlight shone on the south face of the barn, built 50 years before, of Western larch (called tamarack, locally) that had been harvested from nearby ridges and milled into timbers.

Lodgepole pine, cut to firewood length and stacked tall, filled bays on both sides of the barn.

Summer and fall, along with ranch work and cutting firewood and selling firewood, I'd bring loads of firewood in the pickup or on the trailer behind the tractor, into the center of the barn. I'd park there, the hay loft 10 feet above me, throw the wood off, and drive out the north doors. I'd come back and stack wood when I had time.

In winter, snow covers this part of the world two feet deep. Sun would shine in the big south doors of the barn and make enough heat to matter against 10 below. I'd throw rounds - about 18 inches long, cut from dead lodgepole pine trees - from the deep shade in the barn, where frost clung to some surfaces, out into sunshine. On the hard dirt floor, I'd stand the rounds on end in two lines.

I'd swing the splitting maul down on each of them. Swing, crash. Wood flew apart. I'd step over, hit the next one, moving down the line. Then I'd turn and come up the other line, crash, crash. Wood would fly, thud, and rattle against other wood.

After the last swing. I'd leave the maul down a long moment, stand still, and soak up winter silence and sunshine.

Then I'd stand the split halves in lines in the sunshine and swing the maul crashing down the line again. Sun would shine on me. Peaceful odors of summer and new odors of freshly opened wood would rise in the cold air. I'd think of summer, when my chain saw roared outside my ear protectors.

That previous summer, I had cut this round onto dusty ground - sweat dripping from my face in hot summer sun. Grasses grew green in the meadow just below the ridge where I worked, and flowers blossomed in sunshine.

But in winter, in sunshine, I'd wear insulated gloves and insulated coveralls. I'd keep working so as not to feel too cold. I'd leave the heavy maul leaning in sunshine, and I'd bring split pieces of wood to my splitting block.

There, I'd hold the pieces, 20 inches tall, with one hand and swing my single-bit short-handled axe, which was lighter and more controllable than my maul. I'd split kindling from split wood, moving my left hand clear just before I'd strike the wood with the axe.

I'd split until I had enough. By then the sun would have warmed the barn's dark wood on the south face, so I'd sit on a round against the barn awhile, soaking up quiet, soaking up sunshine.

Finally, I'd bring the pickup over and load split wood for our kitchen stove and kindling for all our stoves.

I'd take the wood to the house, where it would cook food and add heat to the warmth of our family proceedings on a bright winter day. Juniper, Amanda, and Laura, home-schooling at the kitchen table, would begin to taper away from their lessons to other creative projects. They were an active household, going outside into the sunshine, if it was warm enough.

I'd feed the fires and join the family flow. Laura and I would fix lunch and bring food to our table, soaked in sunshine just inside our big south window. Our wood-fired kitchen stove would radiate heat to us as we ate, and it heated water to wash our dishes.

Then I'd measure the wood again while I was in the barn. We had more than we'd need. Come early spring, I'd sell a few cords, delivering it when we went to town for groceries. Selling some wood would give us some winter money. We'd still have wood left when I began cutting firewood in hot sunshine again, trees and grasses and flowers growing all around me in summer sun.

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