By the time a piece of wood reaches my stove, I will have handled it eight times, enough to develop a relationship with it. While winter howls and the wood stove fights back, I show the junk of wood to my sons on the couch.
“Look at the colour of this, just feel the bark,” I encourage.
They humour me for the most part and murmur their approval – the movie on pause on the television won’t come on again until they fully appreciate what we’re burning. Sometimes a particularly gnarly chunk catches their eye or a rich grain stands out, and we pass it around a bit before it hits the stove. And rightly so. Each piece is like a fine cuban cigar to me and I hate to see it go.
Personalities and properties
I cut down the trees myself and throw the logs in a pile. I load my truck and unload it at home. In the spring I junk the logs and make a long row of waist-high wood stacked between my tree line, which sits for a year.
Stacked like so much ammunition against a cold winter’s chill.
This is the part I like the most. For months and months I admire it. It starts out fairly white and darkens in the sun. Cracks appear in the exaggerated grain as it dries out and holds promise. Stacked like so much ammunition against a cold winter’s chill.
Over the years I’ve learned the different personalities and properties of species. Fir, or “snotty var” due to the sap bubbles, has a straight grain, is light and easy to split.
Black spruce is heavier, has a rough bark and the grain makes a full twist within two metres. A short piece can be split, but I’ve seen axes stuck in others when someone didn’t know when to stop.
Juniper is absolutely gorgeous. Deep red hues, rough bark and heavy. It grows on the edge of marshes and even though it has a straight grain it splits hard like a black spruce.
The joy of frozen birch junks
There’s an anomaly that forms in the marsh too. Trees long dead, whitened over the years, mostly void of bark with stubby, cracked off branches. I asked around a few places and the accepted term for these formations are “rampikes.” Light, bone dry but like trying to cut steel taking the branches off. The closest thing to petrified as you’ll ever meet in your life.
I’ve cut very few birch and get confused limbing a tree with leaves. Boughs are much easier to deal with. Though I love splitting frozen birch junks, they shatter.
For some reason people ask me to remove trees from their property. Got a problem with your tree? Call Mr. Wood.
Then I’m out on their lawn waving around the bayman’s light sabre, the chainsaw. This leads to an exotic collection of wood and more memories. White oak from Kerry Street. A huge maple project from Stamp’s Lane, some of it milled into coffee tables. Willow from Vinnicombe Street. Dogberry and Laburnum from Conway Crescent. Pine from Higgins Line.
The final steps
I remember all this as I take the last few steps to the wood stove. I’ve admired this piece for a year and I know where it came from. I’m burning all my memories. When I step outside, smoke drifts over the roof and I can smell the different types of wood burning.
There’s nothing nicer than a piece of cherry in the wood stove. It’s perfume. Seriously.
Fir has a sting to it; black spruce has a deep, rich aroma. Birch has its own distinctive smell, both when alive and burning. But cherry! There’s nothing nicer than a piece of cherry in the wood stove. It’s perfume. Seriously. A light intoxicating fragrance, a high note that floats over a base of black spruce. I tend to save it for special occasions with light snow and a westerly wind. There’s no way I’m ever going to burn it if it’s going to just blow away. I love it too much.
The kind of person that has a relationship with a wood pile doesn’t socialize that much, but when I do go somewhere it’s usually a place with a wood stove. And yes, I’ll bring a nice junk of wood. It’s a portable, personal gift of heat. By then I’ve handled it 10 times.