Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Traditions

It has been my tradition for the past several years to work on my firewood supply on Thanks- giving morning. I like to go out in the late November coolness and take stock of the wood pile. Depending on what needs doing, I might move some wood around, say from the outdoor rack under the tarp into the shed, or I might split some logs, or cut up some small stuff with the bow saw. Out of respect for the neighbors on a holiday morning, I wouldn’t fire up the chainsaw.

In the past I would run an extension cord from the garage and turn on the radio. A local station used to play Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” ever year, but I didn’t find it this morning. It seems many good things are coming to an end these days. Anyway, my decrepit little woodshed was an old chicken coop that came with the house that I’ve remodeled into a shelter for my hoard. I take satisfaction in stacking wood in the shed, thinking of it as money in the bank, its interest compounding every week as the logs dry.

The bending, lifting and chopping is a workout more satisfying than a visit to the gym. I recently read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. In it, he comments on how much exercise by Americans is really so much pointless expenditure of time and energy and if we would spend more time doing things like gardening, we would get more exercise and have something to show for it. Now, as one who loves a good bike ride or the occasional run up Moose Hill, I’m inclined to think there is no such thing as totally pointless exercise, but I understand what he’s saying. I can still remember many years ago when my parents sold one of the houses my father built almost single-handedly to a family with a couple of young, strong weight-lifting sons. He watched in dismay as his carefully-tended lawn went wild. “Why don’t those guys try pushing a lawn mower instead of lifting those weights?”

When I first went out, I was greeted by Hobbes sunning himself on the ramp to the bike shed. This is the cat that killed a couple of young red squirrels in the yard a couple of weeks ago. He’s a friendly and pretty little guy and I find it difficult to stay mad at him, especially now that the squirrels are even more aggressively invading the house. They’ve actually found a way to get into the walls and ceilings. I’m happy to report that “Calvin,” at my request, outfitted Hobbes with a new and larger bell. Maybe now I can enjoy his company more and worry about the local wildlife less.

Much of my firewood is a random assortment of wind-fallen branches from here and there and lumber scraps from my carpentry projects. Recently, friends have been kind enough to let me clean up some big oak and beech branches that came crashing down in their yards during heavy storms. One of my favorite things about this Thanksgiving tradition is using the time to daydream. I like to think about a day when I have a woodlot of my own and can use my saws and axes to do a little timber stand improvement and cut some real firewood. Although I’m closing in on an age that used to qualify one for senior citizenship and my dream account has shriveled along with the rest of the stock market, some dreams die hard. I imagined myself walking through the woods, deciding which trees to cut and which to favor, and stoking the stove in my little tight cabin at the end of the day.

It was a fine, crisp New England November morning. I had about two season’s worth of wood stacked and ready to go, and I could look forward to many evenings of dozing by the woodstove. My arms and back had that comforting ache that is the reward for earnest effort. I went back into a house warmed by a fire in the living room and a turkey roasting in the kitchen. I was looking forward to the annual family feast and was thankful that, even in hard times, life can feel pretty good.

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