Wood If I Only Could

Sunshine, Come Another Day: Wood Warmth

Time was, I spent much of my winter with a chain saw, searching out downed and dead trees, windfall along the road, and more recently, what I call “sissy wood” along the creek: witch hazel and spicebush that’s easy to left and won’t kill an idiot if it falls on him. I told my “Darwin Award” story about almost getting smashed a few years back by a falling tree that zigged when and where I zigged.

With the snow-bound winters we’ve had here lately, wood cutting from December through March would be difficult, cutting on icy slopes and hauling it across the frozen creek. We’d have had a very hard time bringing in four cords of home-grown wood to keep us warm.

So I gave in three years ago and, for the first time in my wood-burner’s life that started back in 1975, I bought a load of firewood from a fella over in Bland County–more than an hour’s drive away. Got another load from him last year, and enjoyed talking to the rough-hewn fella, who has done nothing but cut and haul firewood for thirty years.

But the cost was going up for this a 3+ cord dump truck full as gas prices go up, and I understood that. But last year’s load was disappointing– lumber mill culls, odd-shaped and grainy chunks from trees that looked like they’d been submerged under mud–maybe from a construction site where entire trees were simply dozed out of the way. This year’s hearth has been the dirtiest ever because of that.

Then a month ago, right up where Goose Creek meets the civilized world, I passed the same size dump truck heaped over with locally-cut wood for sale, two miles from home, and offered by neighbors I knew: the hard-working fellas with the backhoe that have helped us with projects (like clearing the field of neglected 15 foot Christmas trees) since 1999. I called, they delivered.

They brought us a load two weeks ago, and dumped it down beside the garden. I’m working today on my seventh Dodge Dakota load to get it stacked behind the house. And it is a pleasure to work with: all oak (mostly white) and hickory, straight grained, cut exactly to the length I requested.

It makes a nice looking wall out back, don’t you think, both pleasing and pragmatic in its art, a visible investment in our future, a conversion of cash to real goods far more practical and satisfying than most.

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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. I’ve burned wood for over 40 years now and have bought it for many of those years. This year I have a new wood guy who will bring all locust. It’s like having a stack of gold!

  2. I’ve been cutting wood since I was eight years old, at the beginning it was with a cross cut saw. Still wielding a chain saw nearly 52 years later. It’s free (my wood), I need the exercise, and I’m very stubborn.

    Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more satisfying than a well stacked pile of wood.

  3. Its a beautiful stack, Fred. I can smell it, feel the still sticky fresh cuts, take the scent home inside my gloves, feel the good sweat of lifting logs that still have the spirit of oak and hickory in them, the warm fire when I’m done.

  4. I liked the beautiful woodpile, but even more the young family in overalls, with the cross cut saw (is it?). What another time those youngsters represent. I’m very happy that you are able to get a source of good wood, well cut, to buy for your “dotage.”