Back to the Woodpile

When things feel awful and out of control, I typically default to some combination of exercise and organization an attempt to remind myself that I do, in fact, have the ability to effect change and progress, if even symbolically.

In my days as a trial attorney, this typically meant something as simple as cleaning my desk, or making a lot of lists. Now, on the mountain and in this lifestyle of reduced-cost living, it has to manifest in a more practical and directly useful way.

So I ordered four cords of green firewood.

As we discussed (a bit) in our prior post, we heat our home in the winter primarily with firewood, and that takes a little bit of planning.

Here in Maine, if you’re not chopping and splitting your own wood, you’re buying it by the “cord,” which is an old, arbitrary lumberjack measurement that is somehow still used. In short, it’s a pile of wood four feet tall by four feet wide, by eight feet long. You also need to specify whether you want “green” wood, or the ready-to-burn “seasoned” wood that’s been properly dried.

You see, almost all of the manipulation of firewood is done with an end-goal of getting it dry, and then keeping it that way so it burns clean and doesn’t choke up your chimney with creosote. The good news is humans have been perfecting this process for millennia, so there are some good options out there.

The traditional route in this state is the “Canadian” method, with wood stacked in neat rows:

The upside is this is really easy to do, it’s really fast, and the wood is easy to access as you need it. The problem is it isn’t particularly effective at actually drying out the wood, and getting from “green” to “seasoned” can take a year or more. My understanding is this is a popular method for stacking in-forest if you’re doing your own forestry.

In my youth, my neighbor employed this method in the woods behind his house, tirelessly working on felling, chopping, and splitting firewood, then arranging it in neat stacks between the remaining trees. At any given time, he had roughly three hundred years worth of firewood at his disposal, and because of that he could afford to let a freshly split cord season for a full year or more.

The other big downside to the Canadian method is it requires a lot of space, and the stacks themselves aren’t particularly stable, meaning you need to work with level ground. Again, this makes sense in the forest, but maybe not so much on a mountain with limited flat space.

What’s the alternative? Scandinavia. The climate is similar to Maine, and – let’s face it – they’ve been stacking wood a lot longer than the Canadians.

The Scandinavian method is a little trickier, but takes up less space, is more stable, and, more importantly, can dry wood in six months. So, here we go.

Step one is getting a ten (10) foot diameter circle. To do this, I just used a pitchfork and some string, but getting it correct and even had me lending some credence to the whole “ancient aliens” thing:

Once you get the base established, keep building up the exterior evenly, and toss any misshapen or odd bits into the center:

And that’s it for a while. One stick at a time, but with deliberate progress and intention:

And, slowly, the insurmountable and untamed mountains of wood start to take shape.

Once you get to about here, start filling up the middle until you have a sort of peak, then layer on the last bit as makeshift roof shingles:

And there it is. Four cords of wood in a tight, quick-drying dome. This process took me two blissful days in the sun and spring air, thinking about nothing other than how to stack the next stick. At the end of it, I have one of the major annual chores done well ahead of schedule, and a renewed reminder that even the biggest issues need to be solved with their smallest parts.

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