There’s an old saying about firewood:
It warms you more than once.”
Maybe even three times, or nine, depending on how you count it. A tree has to be cut. Next it may have to be shifted, or cut into lengths for splitting. The lengths have to be stacked somewhere, before the splitting axe is brought into action. Once splitting is finished the firewood has to be stacked again and stored somewhere dry to wait for burning. When days are cold, wet or frosty during the winter months, loads of firewood will be taken from their shed to the fireside. Only then does the burning wood in the grate provide warmth to all. In the meantime, those people involved in the gathering process have managed to be warmed several times over.
I have spent a lot of time cutting firewood. From kindling for a coal range in my childhood, to driftwood for a big open fireplace, to many different stoves and log burners. There is truth in the old saying. No part of providing firewood can take place without physical effort that warms the body. In that respect I’ve been very fortunate to have lived where there are trees growing from which I have been able to gather firewood. It has helped keep me active, and taken care of the cost of heating too.
Sometimes I question the way efficiencies save us time and effort, yet cost us in other ways. I enjoy the sense of wellbeing that comes from providing for ourselves, through things like gathering firewood and vegetable gardening. It seems such a direct and rewarding transaction to have both physical activity and product as a result of our efforts. Having said that, I can see this approach doesn’t work so well in cities, or when, say, a young couple with children are both working flat out.
What I do understand is that the cycle of planting trees, tending them as they grow, then using them as firewood or for other harvesting purposes leads to a different awareness of our place in the wider scheme of things. We have a reason to give thanks, to respect the cycle of life and death and our part in that. In that sense, any activity that takes us into the world of growing things can lead to reverence, or at least respect, for other life.
Today it is raining and cold. I have a fire to light. Once the fire is burning I can sit by it. There is a reward for this activity in a way, or as David George Haskell puts it in The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors:
… campfires change the nature of human conversation. During the day talk is of economic matters, complaints or jokes. Around the fire the imagination opens and stories emerge. People talk of connections and rifts within human social networks, of the spirit world, and of marriage and kinship. Fire seems to anneal the human community, joining strands. Our minds seem particularly attuned to the sounds of fire.
I don’t notice the hum of the heat pump doing quite the same thing. Somehow, gazing into a gently burning fire of a winter’s evening achieves a type of inner warmth the heat pump cannot replicate.
Pat White is a writer and painter who lives near Fairlie in the South Island of New Zealand. His work has been published and exhibited regularly since Frontiers Press published his first volume of poetry in 1976. His most recent poetry collection is Fracking & Hawk (Frontiers Press 2015), and a newly-published biography/memoir of teacher, author and environmentalist, Peter Hooper, Notes from the margins; the West Coast’s Peter Hooper (Frontiers Press 2017). Pat’s memoir How the Land Lies; of Longing and Belonging was published by VUP in 2010.
Photo credit for ‘Pat White and a harvest of firewood’: Catherine Day
Read more by Pat White on Corpus: The Heart of the Matter