The Pragmatic Wood Pile

A pound of wood is a pound of wood
A pound of wood is a pound of wood

I’ve heard it said that the best kind of wood to cut for the wood stove is the kind of wood you’ve got enough of on your woodlot. The best kind is also the kind you can manage with low risk and relative freedom from pain. And so see here my unmanly pile of arm to leg sized, light weight, safe and abundant SPICEBUSH, Lindera benzoin.

Now you’ll not see many true-macho wood piles with much if any of this small tree species in it. GUY WOOD will consist of hefty rounds of oak and locust, cherry and hickory–thick, heavy body wood worthy of a 15 pound splitting maul, a strong back, good hands and a spit on the ground.

You’ll never see spicebush listed in the BTU per cord charts of common trees for heat. But a pound of wood is a pound of wood for heat content, it just takes a bigger piece of some woods like poplar and pine. But spicebush is as dense as hickory it seems to me, heavy, hard and solid.

It grows in abundance along Nameless Creek where it follows the old rock wall along the edge of the pasture. There, spicebush splays out in clumps of up to a dozen muscular “trunks” in a single cluster. Out of that, one or two are typically three to four inches across and up to a dozen feet long.

And more often than not, when they get that size, they begin to lodge over into the creek or otherwise obstruct an opening like a guard’s gate and invite themselves to be trimmed back to the base and tossed in my truck. It takes a while to get a load of “coppiced” spicebush, but it can be done in about two hours of cutting, loading and unloading behind the house where this picture shows two spicebush loads on top of some maple from way back in the fall.

Spicebush yields the small to medium sized stuff we use the most of unless temps go down and stay down in the twenties or less. So I’ll stack most of this over beside the shed and find it there dry and under cover this time next year when a big chunk of oak would be too much, a handful of twigs and cardboard would be too little, and a few arm and leg sized sticks of Spicebush would be the Goldilocks JUST RIGHT.

Oh, I should mention in my reminiscinces of firewood past and present, it was a year ago just about exactly today that I had my close encounter with a falling tree that almost won me a DARWIN AWARD.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. If you need more wood and don’t mind crossing the mountains to get it, we’ve got tons of tree debris from a selective harvest conducted in the Autumn on 40 of our acres. There is plenty of oak, some locust and an enormous amount of poplar tops and large brances on the ground. You’re welcome to it! Probably not worth the drive though, if you’ve got plenty of good trees in your backyard.