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Honor of Wood

Yesterday in the weak sun of early March I split wood for the stove, standing in the thaw of liquid earth that squished like a sponge under my rubber boots. The sun was soon warm enough that after a few minutes of swinging the maul, I was down to the flannel shirt with sleeves rolled up. Here in the heel-end of the woodpile are remnants of wood dry now for more than three years. Sassafras, dogwood, sourwood... this wood did not come from Goose Creek. I moved my woodpile, truckload at a time, when we moved in here in the fall of 1999. Now we're dipping into the wood archives, I know the history of every piece, and I confess I hate to part with it.

This morning, I burned a few pieces of an old barn log that had been notched by hand a hundred or more years ago. The old oak was dry as tinder, cut, I am sure, from these hillsides when the sturdy barn was being built. We had put these logs aside, thinking it would be a shame to burn them. And it is. But they were gradually going to rot and would do no one any good merely decaying along the edge of the pasture. Still, I had regrets in the final cremation of this tangible remnant of lives once lived here, a vestige of families who had built this house and harvested and used the wood from this valley long before we came to know and love it.

Often when I am stoking the woodstove, there is an appreciation and reverence toward wood that is probably similar to the attitude of honor that the Indians voiced toward a deer that they had just killed so that they could feed their families..."I'm sorry to have to burn you now for heat. I honor your strength and your silent steady growth in the forest, the Creators Wisdom you manifest in turning sunlight and carbon into this miraculous substance, wood, that has been so immensely useful to mankind. I have stopped in my splitting to sense from you the essence of Earths own aromas... the astringent medicinal smell of Walnut; cherry wood sweet like the flavor of childhood elixirs; sassafras smooth and spicy like hard stick candy; and oak smelling sour, of November frost with overtones of fungus and smoke. I'll not take your heat for granted now, the stored summer sunshine you give back to my home in winter. I consider wood a gift and a blessing, and I will be the good steward."

The time will come in not so many seasons when I will have to pay somebody else to deliver a winter's worth of fire wood for us. It will not be the same then heating with wood that I know only in a generic sense. That will be like the difference between eating vegetables from our garden out of Mason jars stored in colorful rows in our cellar and "the same" vegetable species trucked in from California, shaken out of a metal can onto our plates. The nutritional content of both is probably about the same, but the homegrown sure tastes of the labor that has gone into it. Purchased firewood will heat me but it will not warm me in the same way as the wood cut, split, stacked and stoked by these willing but slowly failing hands.


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The home we live and love in. Burning embers that warm the chill from our winter evenings. The children's joyful refridgerator art. Heady aroma of cedar emanating from the closet. I never stopped to consider the blessing that is wood. Until now. Thank you.

Fred, this is a particularly beautiful and resonant post! I loved it!!!

You just explained why I make bread every Wednesday and Saturday. Most people don't understand that living simply can, in fact, be more work but is almost always worth it.

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