To Make a Fire (Jack London, Eat Your Heart Out)

It’s lumberjack time again. 

We burn wood in our living room fireplace, in our backyard fire pit, and in a small woodstove that warms our sunroom. We fire up the first two venues only occasionally, mostly when the kids are over. But we burn a lot of wood in that little stove in the sunroom.

The sunroom

The sunroom, with its large windows showing our backyard and part of our wooded neighborhood, is a pleasant place to sit and write, chat, dine, or just sit and ponder. It is not served, however, by the gas furnace and ductwork that heats the rest of the house. Even to call it a “three-season room” is a stretch, because here in south central Wisconsin, spring does not get going until May, and winter has been known to start in late October. Burning wood makes the sunroom a year-round site.

Last year we went through about three face cords of wood. A face cord is one third of a cord. A cord of firewood is a stack four feet wide by four feet high and eight feet long. But nobody burns four-foot logs. You cut them into “fireplace length,” about sixteen inches.

You can’t be exact with logs. Some may be cut eighteen or twenty inches long, others less than a foot. But on average, they’re sixteen inches. We split the logs and dry them on eight-foot racks. Each rack holds a face cord.

We may burn more than three face cords this year. How much time we spend in the sunroom depends on how much wood we have.

This spring we had almost a face cord of miscellaneous logs left over. But spring is not too soon to start scrounging for more. You want your wood to dry a few months before burning; a year or two would be better. Dry wood burns hotter than fresh wood. And did I mention, I hate to pay money for firewood? I like to get it for free, but the opportunity has to be right. 

The Hunt Begins

“The guy down the street has that big tree in his backyard that blew over a while back,” said my wife, Jo. “You could take your chainsaw and offer to give him a hand with it.”

“Mmph. Rotten old thing. Mumble-mumble.” I preferred, so early in the spring, to dilly-dally. Even, if need be, to shilly-shally.

“But where are we going to get firewood for next winter?”

Jack to the Rescue

Jack’s wood burning in my stove

Did I mention my friend Jack? A splendid gentleman of the old school, he happens to be a Renaissance man: classically educated, a Vietnam vet, a horseman, an expert witness on matters involving masonry construction. Jack is also a writer with a great book, not yet published—just as I am a writer with a great book, not yet published.

By the way, Jack owns and operates a large farm near Madison. He’s perpetually cutting down old trees, and he invites me to share the wealth. This year my daughter, Katie, and I went out to his farm and scored a couple of van loads of white oak and walnut. Already cut, split, and seasoned. Some of that wood warms me as I write these words—in my sunroom, surrounded by  a snowy landscape.

Jack gives me wood, and I usually bring him a bottle of something nice. Katie brings him honey. This is not payment for the wood. We’re just doing something nice for a friend, who happens to have done something nice for us.

So, thanks to Jack’s generosity and a bit of left-over mulberry from our own yard, we now have more than a face cord of dry, burnable wood. But we neded quite a bit more. Even if Jack invites us out again, it will not completely fill our need. It seems to me churlish, not to mention unwise, to rely solely on one generous friend.

What shall we do?

Next Time: What About Honey Locust?

Blessings,

Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer

5 thoughts on “To Make a Fire (Jack London, Eat Your Heart Out)

  1. This post brings back memories of being a kid on the farm near Barneveld, Wis. Our house was heated by a wood-burning furnace in the basement. Once in a while, to be efficient and save money, Dad would fire up the tractor and manure spreader and head out into the pastures and under trees to collect downed wood. He’d bring back the load in the spreader, chop up what needed to be chopped, and tossed the wood into the basement through an outside trap door. Mom would go into the basement every morning to “stoke the furnace.” I would hear the clunk of the wood being tossed in and the creak of the handle on the furnace all the way up in the second-story bedroom. Lest we think this was all romantic, it was pretty much darn cold in that house. Later, they switched to coal and finally electric heat throughout the old farmhouse, which was after I’d left for college and onward.

  2. Love the story and jealous of the sunroom. You burn three face cords a year – that would be a cord. Correct? 😉

    We’re right there with you! We seem to have access to fallen oak trees to most years so we buck up the trees with chain saws, rent a splitter for the weekend and several of us split and split and split and divvy up the spoils. Hard work. Good fun!

    Stay healthy and enjoy the fire!
    Laura

    • Thanks for the comment, Laura. Yes, it’s a good group activity. We have roped our neighbors into some of this work as well. More coming on that in the next couple of weeks.

  3. Pingback: Neighbors to the Rescue – Reflections

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.