Saturday …. In the Woods

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather
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Remember that song by “Chicago” called “Saturday in the Park?” 

It’s from 1972 so I’m showing my age. It talked about stuff people did in the park on Saturdays. Stuff city people do. I never liked the options I had in the city on Saturdays. Ride my bike and go head to head with angry SUV drivers, plant vegetables in my front yard or go shopping. Luckily our kids were young when we lived in the city so we were pretty focused on them on weekends.

Now my Saturdays are fantastic. I heat my house on Saturdays. People in the city warned me about all the things I’d hate about country life. “You’ll hate the sound of rain on a metal roof.” Huh? It’s the greatest sound on the planet! “You’ll get sick of all the work with heating with wood!” Huh? I love heating with wood. I love everything about it. Everything! Especially Saturdays in the winter!

Saturdays start off with a big breakfast with as many scrambled eggs, hash browned potatoes, toast, tempeh and anything else that I can find. I’ve learned from experience that I need to provide my body with fuel before I head off into the woods.

We’d had some snow, so I started out on snowshoes and hiked the area west of our house to look for dead trees to cut. This initial scouting expedition makes a path that’s easier to walk later. There is no shortage of dead wood on 150 acres. Jasper the Wonder Dog accompanies me in the woods, and he loves these scouting missions. He leaps, he bounds, he runs, he digs under snow banks and in grassy spots, he just never stops. I am exhausted just watching him.

After I had found some wood to cut I came back to the house for equipment. I wear chainsaw pants and chainsaw boots. The chainsaw pants have a thick layer of polyester fibres that would immediately tangle and stop a moving chainsaw blade. I have never needed my chainsaw pants. I am very careful with a chainsaw, but like insurance, they are a good thing to have. I have learned in this part of the world that emergency room doctors dread chainsaw injuries. I’m doing my best to stay away from them.

I’ve also learned to take two saws with me. As in all things in life I like to have a back up plan. One saw will inevitably not want to cooperate, or I’ll get one saw pinched in a downed tree and need the other to cut it out. It has taken me years to learn this lesson.

Then it’s off to the trees. I cut the trees into two and three firelog lengths. Once I get them back to the house I “buck” them into woodstove-sized lengths. This allows me to use my electric “solar-powered” chainsaw on those days when I have too much electricity from my solar panels, usually beginning in February and especially in March.

After I cut the tree up I lay down some scrap lengths of wood and I pile the logs that I’ve cut on top of them. This way I won’t have to shovel them out when I come back for them during the week. Some days I cut for an hour. Some days for three hours. It all depends on my energy level. Some Saturdays I’ll go a round in the morning and go out again in the afternoon. The one thing I’ve learned about a chainsaw is that it’s not a good tool to use if you’re fatigued. I remember hearing that a large number of skiing accidents happen late in the day, when skiers are tired. There are consequences to a chainsaw accident so again, if I feel tired, I quit.

There is nothing quite like looking at a pile of wood you have just cut. It’s heat for your house. It’s BTUs of warmth for the next winter. I always cut my firewood a year in advance. There is no book I can publish, no annual report I can lay out, no website I could set up that gives me as much satisfaction as a pile of firewood. “I did that!” It will keep me warm the following winter and it’s carbon neutral so my heating isn’t having a negative impact on others. I know where my heat is coming from next year. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.

Often on a Saturday afternoon I’ll pull a load or two of logs back to the house or to a spot in the woods where I’ll be able to get the truck into in the spring. I like to pack down the path a bit and then let it harden up overnight. It’s much easier the next day if I do. After a few cold nights and a few trips to harden it up it can be like a paved a road. I’ve noticed that the deer appreciate these temporary roads through the forest too.

Most people who work in the woods use ATVs. I have ridden my neighbor Ken’s ATV and it is a blast, and there is no doubt it would be awesome to have one for firewood. I don’t though, for a few reasons. Using an ATV would put carbon into the air unnecessarily. That’s why I heat with wood; it’s carbon neutral. Secondly, I’d have to make bigger trails through the woods. I can cut an area and haul out the wood on sleds in the winter and in the spring you would never know I’d been there. To use an ATV though, “you’re gonna need a wider trail.” The third reason is that doing this all by my own sweat means I get to eat unlimited calories. Think about it, eating anything you want and never gaining a pound! It’s pretty awesome!

A good day of cutting on a Saturday usually gives me a week’s worth of hauling. I never seem to cut near where it’ll end up, so there’s usually a long haul involved to get it to where it needs to go. (I wrote about this here.) At this time of year it still gets dark pretty early, so I’m generally out of the office by 4 pm to haul wood until dark. I keep hearing and reading that spending too much time sitting is bad for your health. Having firewood helps ensure that I don’t overstay my welcome in front of my computer.

A Saturday of cutting firewood is the greatest way I can possibly imagine to spend a day. Not on a golf course. Not in a mall. Not at a resort. Cutting firewood. Hauling firewood. Watching my dog bound through snow. Peeling off layers of clothing that are soaked with sweat, in January. I just love it and 15 years later I can’t imagine a better thing to do on a weekend.

At dinner I don’t worry about how many calories I eat. I feel no guilt about whipped cream on my pie.

After dinner I like to sit by the fire and read novels. I’m getting caught up on the classics, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, anything by Tolstoy or Bronte …

Just kidding! Sorry if I burst your homesteading illusion, but if I try and read at night I’m lucky if I last 15 minutes. I can barely stay awake long enough to watch a movie.

Luckily I see Anna Karenina is going to be out on DVD to rent soon! With Keira Knightly and Jude Law! Woo hoo! I can cross that one off my list.

I do my reading first thing in the morning when I am fresh. As you know from reading this blog, I prefer non-fiction and so I need to be wide awake to tackle the type of subjects that I prefer.

On Saturday nights after a day in the woods I have no trouble sleeping. Michelle mentioned that I was snoring before my head hit the pillow. Life at Sunflower Farm gets better by the day. 

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