Since childhood, I’ve always felt burning wood was a cherished pastime. There are few things I place as much importance in on our farm as I do the cutting, hauling, splitting and stacking of firewood. The entire process is sacred and rewarding to me. Walking out to the woodlot during a warm summer evening as the fireflies begin their nightly show and taking stock of what I have ready for this winter, for next, and beyond, brings great satisfaction. There the firewood is stacked on pallets in rows fifty feet long and as I walk around the woodlot, I know I will have no trouble keeping my family warm, no matter how cold winter will get.
My family and I heat 100% with wood. In a corner of our living room, down in the basement lies a small black stove with a glass front, and from October until April it sings that lovely dry heat song that brings true definition to cozy. Where we live, in Middle Tennessee, winter’s embrace is rarely as intense for as long as it is, even one state up. Yet still we burn wood for over half of the year. As September’s iron grip on summer becomes as brittle as a falling hackberry leaf and October’s air whispers in that wonderful cool, dry and crisp change to the hills and hollows of our community, the fires are then lit. In the backyard, fire is ringed with round granite river rock, chairs are set and benches occupied. The sizzling smells of wood-fired cooking mingle with the smells of oak, cherry and hickory smoke as the cast iron is laid on coals and grills. Little ones vie for the roasting stick and screech or giggle when their treat catches on fire or is toasted to a perfect golden brown. Inside the stove is alive, pinging and popping with chill crushing heat that tucks in the house on a cool night. There is simply nothing like it. It’s instinctual. And it’s worth all the work it takes.
I burn firewood to keep my house warm in the cooler months, to build a bonfire in the backyard for family and friend time, and sometimes I sell a little bit too. I also do it because I love working the wood. This isn’t chair making obviously. It’s hard. It’s hot. It takes time. It can be tough on the bones and back. It’s serious business that I don’t have to do. I could turn on the heater and life would be much easier. However, for me, too much about life these days is just that, easier. We are meant to use our bodies to work. To hunt and gather food over long distances. To tend fields for crops to feed us and our animals. To build ships and buildings and railroads. We aren’t built so well to sit down and stare at things. Sometimes we are really good at doing that however, and it shows. This causes a reaction after a time, and some people work on reversing this phenomena by going to the gym. I am not built for that! I can however, walk out to my field on that same warm summer evening, where I have a freshly cut pile of rounds of wood. Be it ash, maple, beech, no matter the wood, I work it with axe and maul until it goes from would be landfill to a nice, neat stack of commodity. I do it all by hand. No hydraulics please. The more I have to use my body, powered by food grown in the sun, the better I feel and the more rewarding it becomes. It’s literally a cycle. I eat food grown by the sun, whether meat, vegetable or grain, and this powers me to process these trees into fuel to keep us warm and cook our food. This fuel is virtually free, and it too is grown by the sun. When I heat my house with wood, it’s effectively solar powered, just like me. It’s a year-round activity that keeps me in a preferred shape and cuts the power bill by over two thirds versus the summer month rates. I may also like telling the guys at work on a 90+ degree day in July that I’m going home to split wood by hand and get a good lather built up before sundown. Heads shake. Eyebrows raise. The word ‘crazy’ may even be used. I’m good with that because come January, I’ll be warm and toasty for the cost of a little sweat equity.
Editor’s Note: This article was first posted October 2018.
Patrick and his family live on a small farm where they heat with firewood and raise chickens and bees. They built a small home so that they could enjoy a nice simple lifestyle, which gives them family time and time to spend outside working their land. Patrick splits about 20 cords of wood a year by hand with an axe and a wedge, no hydraulics required.