I ain’t as good as I once was
My, how the years have flown
But there was a time, back in my prime
When I could really hold my own
About this time last year I grabbed a chainsaw, fired it up and limbed one of the maple trees in the front yard at Second Chance Ranch. The task, which didn’t take long, took me back to when I lived in a small farmhouse heated with a woodstove.
Evenings and weekends (I worked a full-time job) I’d drive my balky old Dodge pickup along local backroads and scan for dead or down trees. When I found one that looked promising, I’d approach the landowner and volunteer to fell it and leave half, bucked to stove-length. Usually they’d let me take it all, and I never paid a cent for the wood I hauled away.
Back at the house I’d drag the logs off the truck and process the wood myself. The tools I used were simple — a hell-for-stout Stihl chainsaw with 16- and 18-inch bars, a vintage felling axe, a 12-pound splitting maul, an eight-pound sledge and a few wedges. For the four years I lived there I bucked, split and stacked as much as six cords a year.
I was in my late 20s at the time, strong and froggy. It was good work, hard work even then. My bones still ache from the effort.
When Deb and I visit her cousin on The Mountain, we see the firewood he has stacked neatly out back of his cabin (pictured in today’s header image). The sight always brings a smile, reminding me of the days when I looked on racks of split maple and oak behind my Connecticut barn.
On Thanksgiving he had his woodstove going. The radiating warmth triggered still more memories.
These days, of course, we have our campfires. We buy firewood by the bundle, already processed and (allegedly) seasoned. Deb’s cousin brings us a pile of wood from his stash every now and then.
There’s nothing like a campfire. I mean to have an outdoor fire pit in my life, for the rest of my life. But when Deb and I leave The Road and settle in one spot — and that’ll happen, sooner or later — we’ll have a woodstove.
Once again I’ll create a place to cut, split and stack firewood. The ground will be covered in a layer of wood chips, sawdust and fallen leaves. I’ll have a couple of big rounds standing in the middle of the lot to serve as splitting blocks.
Yeah, I’ve thought about this. But do I imagine felling trees, swinging a heavy maul, doing what I did over 35 years ago?
I ain’t as good as I once was
But I’m as good once as I ever was
Hell, no. We’ll buy our cordwood (or most of it, anyway). If there’s significant cutting or splitting to be done, power tools will be involved. I’ll process smaller rounds and split kindling the old-fashioned way.
And I’ll stack the wood in racks, a chore both maddening and meditative. Like putting up hay, it’s Tetris for country folk. I’m looking forward to that.
As for the stove itself, when the time comes we’ll confront a web of federal regulations. (Some states and localities impose restrictions as well, even more stringent, but we can’t imagine living in such a place.) Simple, efficient woodburners like the one that heated my house in the ’80s are no longer being made, succeeded by State-strangled models said to reduce the emission of particulate matter.
Naturally, they’re about three times more expensive than the stoves they replaced. Used stoves, salvaged from renovations, can be hard to find. (I’ll bet installing an unregulated stove probably runs afoul of The Rules, too.) We’ll deal with that when we have to.
For the moment this is simply a vision, dreams of an American Life I’d like to live one day. Honest work, close to the land. Sweat and reward. Wood and fire.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.