Brining in the wood

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange finds himself facing and avoiding an annual fall task – but not for the usual reason.

(Lange) Down in my cellar, ten feet from the furnace, there’s a pile of firewood, all cut to 22 inches and ready for the winter. Down on the bottom, out of sight behind the first rank of maple and scrap lumber, is a vein of red oak that I cut and split just 25 years ago. It moved here with us from our last house 19 years ago, and got buried beneath the new additions to the pile. Since then, I’ve never gotten down to it.

Out in the side yard, there’s another pile of fresh firewood ready to come in. But my summer was pretty busy, so I never did quite top it off smooth; there’s a sag in the middle. I see it every time I pull into the garage, a constant reproach.

The rituals of life on the edge of the woods are as rigid as any church’s. We haul the wood in before the ground thaws in March, split it during mud season, and rank it by Memorial Day, with a little roof of corrugated steel. It bakes in the summer sun. It can come in any time after Labor Day, before hunting season and before the first big snow. Any break in the routine causes a mild regret and a growing sense of guilt and shame. I look at that sag in my woodpile and wish I could park a bus or something in front of it. My friends come to visit, I’m sure they see it. They never mention it, but I know what they’re thinking.

My contracting business generates quite a bit of scrap lumber. I can’t throw it away, so I cut it up and add it to the wood in the cellar. That’s one reason I never get down to the bottom of that woodpile. The scrap lumber’s often full of nails, which is almost never a problem because they shake down through the furnace grate. Once, though, a delivery truck got stuck in the driveway in February, and Mother took out a bucket of ashes to spread on the hill. That spot was like a minefield for months afterward, but the traction was great!

I don’t know…this fall’s been even busier than the summer, and bringing in that pile’ll take a day I don’t have. But I can’t just leave it there as a constant reproach. What I’d better do is cut and split a small maple or ash to bring it up to snuff, cover it, and then use up the old wood in the cellar. Burning those chunks of red oak will be like burning pieces of the true cross. But that’s appropriate; working up the wood is the cross we gladly bear for the rare privilege of living here.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, NH, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer, and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich, Vermont.

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