Monday, December 19, 2016

The Neatest Stack of Wood

Taking a break from writing about my river trip, I'm still scanning pictures taken by my parents and found this one among them. It was taken in 1996 and judging from the surrounding pictures, somewhere in Pennsylvania. I don't think I have ever seen a neater job of stacking wood in my life. It brings back a lot of memories.

Back in the old farmhouse where I grew up and which is now long gone, our sole source of heat was a wood burning stove. For a two story rambling farmhouse with seven bedrooms, it wasn't nearly enough to stay warm but it kept the core of it tolerably warm and kept the pipes from freezing, most of the time.

Looking back at it through different eyes, I really liked the concept because during the winter anyway, you never found anyone straying too far from the living room where the wood stove was at. This meant that we were together as a family and not strung out across floors and rooms like my family does now at times with our forced air heat. We had two easy chairs on either end of the wood stove and those were always prime real estate. I spent many an hour with two pairs of heavy wool socks on my feet reclined in one of those chairs reading while my feet were propped on top of the protective outer cover of the wood stove. I still had to occasionally swap which foot was on bottom when the bottom one got too hot.

Burning wood meant having lots of wood to burn so we generally spent several weeks every winter cutting next year's supply. You know the saying, wood burning heats you twice, once cutting it and once burning it is so true. We would cut down dead trees in the river bottoms. My dad did the chainsaw work, I split, my brother hauled the small branches off and piled them up while my mom loaded up the split pieces. For lunch we would set the small branches on fire and warm up by the fire while we ate our still warm lunches out of a thermos.

After school, my brother and I had the job of carrying wood from the woodshed inside to the enclosed back porch and filling up the woodbox. It was a five by five plywood box that we had made to store a supply of wood in so that one didn't have to go outside in acclimate weather to restoke the fireplace. If we did a good job of selecting a mix of sizes, small to start the fire and big logs to keep it burning throughout the night, we only had to do it every other day. All this is just a prelude to the actual memory that I will share with you now.

With one particularly cold snap of weather approaching, my brother and I decided we were going to neatly stack the wood in the woodbox out on the back porch instead of just tossing it in randomly as we normally do. We spent all afternoon carrying in wood and stacking it. In my 10 year old memory, we stacked the wood ten feet high if it was a foot, but in reality, I'm guessing we maybe got it four feet high. I remember my dad being really impressed with our handy work and we had enough wood to last us a week. But it had been a lot of work which is why we went back to tossing it randomly and occasionally getting chewed out by my dad when he had to go out in the freezing cold of morning to get enough wood to restoke the fire before we crawled out from under our pile of blankets in the outer reaches of that big old farmhouse.


Kelly said...

Ha! As kids, you didn't realize you'd shot yourselves in the foot by doing such a great job and setting up future expectations!

I've always lived with central air and heat (except in college when it was a window unit for both and I quit using heat after I got my first bill) so wood has only been for the fireplace. I do remember an ice storm as a teenager when it became our only source of heat for several days, so my mother and I closed ourselves in the room with it and stayed warm enough. Of course we bought our wood there. Here in the "country", we cut up our own. I'm best left to stacking rather than wielding the chainsaw or axe. (though I can split wood, just not that well)

That photo is an impressive display. I've seen photos where people actually make designs in their woodpiles by the way it's stacked!

Ed said...

Kelly - I miss having a woodstove during power outages. We always used to make a pot of beans or similar on top of the stove. I could probably rig up something using my woodburning insert that I have now to cook something but it would be easier to just use my grill or campstove. Partly it is due to the timing. These days, eight hours without electricity is unheard of where I live. Back out on the farm, two weeks isn't all that uncommon.

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Like Kelly, wood for a fire was never a necessity in my lifetime. We had a wood burning fire place that got used 2-3 times in the year as our winter nights can get below freezing. My dad would bring in and stack a much smaller pile of wood on the side of the house for those times. But it was never a winter way of life like it was for you. How long would you say that stack of wood in the photo would last? Would that get you all through the winter or just a week or two?
I like the picture of the family sticking close to the fire on winter nights.

Ed said...

Pumpkin Delight - I would guess the stack in the foreground would have lasted three or four weeks during really cold weather. We probably would have burned four or five times that over the course of the winter.

I suspect there is probably a photo or two of us either cutting wood or huddling around the old wood stove but I haven't run across it yet in my slide scanning project.

Bob said...

You may have figured out Kelly and I are lifelong friends and I remember the very ice storm she is talking about. I hunkered down in a similar way with my parents, around our fireplace, and now it's a fun memory.

Great story and more than anything I am struck by the work ethic this obviously instilled in you,