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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At 11:34 PM, Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

Jeez... and I thought most men just wanted to watch a football game on Thanksgiving morning.


My MIL tried to mostly heat her house with a woodstove for many years... and my poor husband and his brothers would not likely be quite so poetic as you about the chore that is splitting and cutting all that wood to feed the beast.

I miss it sometimes though... the smell of woodsmoke in the house and the intense heat that warmed you in seconds standing next to it... doing slow turns to warm all sides evenly.

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Paul said...

You are indeed a kindred spirit! Reading your words has lowered my BP by 10 points and brightened my day.

At 7:11 PM, Blogger TypewriterStreaming said...

Beautiful imagery.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger robin andrea said...

No chopping wood on our Thanksgiving day. Oh, you have no idea how much we wish we had wood to chop and a stove or fireplace for it. We have the same dream, mojo, of the woods and the careful selection with axes and saws. Maybe next year.

Nice job with Calvin and Hobbes.

At 7:45 AM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Hi, Laura! I'm not a big fan of football these days. For me, it has come to represent the mindless jingoism and consumption that seems all too common in America today. I don't try to heat the whole house with wood all the time. My wood burning is more recreational, usually done on quiet evenings when I have time to sit and enjoy the warmth.

Greetings, Paul. Yes, this is just the sort of chore that can be relaxing.

Thanks, Typewriter. Please come again.

Robin Andrea, does anyone have wood stoves in Santa Cruz? I don't imagine it's cold enough very often. How is Eucalyptus as firewood? It seems like to grow like a weed everywhere there. My dream cabin would only be a retreat. I'm committed to the concept of living close to work, society and services. We can't afford long commutes anymore.

At 10:27 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

Mojo-- There are plenty of woodstoves in Santa Cruz. Many (too many) people live way out in the mountains, off the grid. People do burn eucalyptus. So, I guess that's a transplant that has been put to good use.

I thought of you the other day when we watched a segment of Bill Moyers Journal. He interviewed Michael Pollan.

At 6:59 PM, Blogger greentangle said...

Hello, happy to find your blog--when I lived in MA, Moose Hill was one of my favorite hiking spots. Would often take the train from Boston.

I especially remember deer, skunk cabbage, very loud wood frogs, photos I took inside a snag which look like a canyon wall, and the many people I introduced to the place.

Bonus points--we have some similar opinions of what's in the future. Look forward to reading more.

At 5:50 PM, Blogger Lynne said...

Thinking of my favorite blogging friends on Christmas Eve day-

Merry Christmas to you and your family Mojoman!

At 11:09 AM, Blogger CabinWriter-- said...

So you like to daydream, too. Now I don't feel so alone. Your entries are so rewarding to read. As Paul reminded us his BP was lowered, my mind eased and I was searching for branches with you.

At 8:34 PM, Blogger Larry said...

When I lived at home with my parents, I used to split the wood for my dad. I found it to be a very rewarding workout.I also found it to be a sort of meditative activity.


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