Preparing Winter’s Wood in Summer

Reader Contribution by Bethann Weick
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The thermometer peaked at 98 degrees that afternoon, but Ryan and I spent the morning thinking of winter. Over the course of a few hours, we transformed a pile of birch and maple into a stack of wood for the colder months. Sweat was pouring off both of us: Ryan had the particularly hot job of splitting, while I stacked.

We do use wood to cook meals in our Sweetheart cookstove during the summer, but our wood needs are minimal compared to the late fall, winter, and early spring. Once the colder weather arrives, we switch out the cookstove for our Reliant woodstove, which is much better suited to the dual demands of heating and cooking. In this manner, we go through a few cords of wood each year. 

The total quantity is hard to measure, as the sourcing of wood is ongoing work. Felling, bucking, splitting, and stacking are tasks we engage in throughout the year as need requires and time allows. The seasons fade from one to the other, but the constant demand for wood creates a persistent motivation to engage in woods work. We must be thinking ahead, always planning, anticipating, and preparing for the seasons to come. At the moment, for example, we have cherry logs seasoning by the upper field and in the forest hedge below it, but splitting and stacking may not happen for another few weeks, or few months. With our base needs met, additional work is completed as our schedules (and other projects) permit. Nevertheless, while we may put off those cherry lengths for the short-term, they are in our mind and cannot be forgotten for long. Future comfort lies within those logs. 

The remains of last winter’s woodpile (some cherry and maple, plus a few remnants of beech, poplar, and ash) had been somewhat rag-tag in appearance: lopsided on one end, barely protected from the elements by a tarp that was more torn than whole. It looked a bit like “skid row.” Now, though, we have a robust wood pile stacked along the woodline. After the sweltering work of a morning, the view from the cabin’s eastern window suggests preparedness as well as aesthetics. The oldest wood is off to the right, the just split birch and maple comprising the majority of the new stack. To the left we have rows of limb wood, good for cooking. If you look closely, you might notice that the bark side of each piece is uniformly stacked facing up (mostly…). In the ongoing debate between bark-side-up and bark-side-down, Ryan is firmly in the former camp. I, having previously used a willy-nilly approach, am more than willing to follow his practice on the matter. Having the bark up will help shed any water that makes it past our metal roofing and tarp storage system. 

Were someone to walk into the scene, one might note that there is surely something quintessential about it: man and woman, side-by-side, mostly silent, working in a steady rhythm with diligence, focus, ease (and maybe even pleasure) to answer the needs of the coming season. As the people in the scene, we can say that it is certainly satisfying. It is mentally comforting to know that our wood is present and ready for use into the next year. It is invigorating and fulfilling to complete such work together. And on this particular day, with both the humidity and the temperature pushing towards 100, the dominant sentiment is appreciation for the river that runs along the property. With wood securely under cover, splitting debris piled to use as mulch, and tools away, we eagerly head to the swimming hole. For the time being, it is still summer.

Photo by Bethann Weick