Wood

If Mainers were pagans, the preferred god of worship would certainly be the tree.  Here in the White Mountains, people live and breathe wood, be it pine, maple, oak, beech, birch, ash, hickory or larch.

This view was taken 10 minutes' drive from our home

It seems like everyone is in some way connected to wood:  foresters, woodsmen (loggers and sawyers), builders, carpenters, cabinet makers, fuel sellers (cordwood and pellets), landscapers (mulch), chimney sweepers, paper mill workers and artisans.    Property taxes are reduced significantly if one owns 10 acres or more under the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law, if one designates part of one’s land as forestland, used for growth of trees to be eventually harvested for commercial use and then replanted.

On a sunny day our solar panels generate 1200-1400 watts of electricity, usually adequate for our needs

I admit to feeling sad when we had to chop down so many trees (75 – 100) to prepare our building site.  And when we decided to use solar to power our home, it meant another 50 – 75 trees had to go:  their shadows were preventing the solar collector panels from doing their job.  But Mainers have no room for sentimentality, only sustainability.  Indeed, our downed trees provide a crucial resource that is the key to winter survival:  heat.

Make no mistake, a broken heating system in one’s house is treated like a 911 call by one’s heating contractor, because without heat, pipes freeze and burst, causing horrific flooding, damage and mold, not to mention the actual possibility of freezing to death in one’s own abode.  Heating contractors work under deplorable winter conditions, sometimes 25 degrees below zero, to restore heat to afflicted homes.  Summer homes, or “camps” as they are called locally, are big business for heating contractors who make part of their living shutting down seasonal homes for the winter (turning off water, draining pipes with air compressors and flushing them with antifreeze) and opening them up again in late spring.

Nearly everyone has at least two ways to heat their home, and most homeowners have backups to their backup systems, whether it’s wood, oil, propane, kerosene, or electricity.  But for economic and practical reasons, wood as a heat source is king.

We furnished our house cheaply (thank you craigslist) but we spared no expense on our soapstone woodstove.  The soapstone stays warm and radiates heat long after the last embers have cooled.  It is an airtight, high-efficiency stove that qualified for a 30% tax credit, and so far it seems well worth the cost.  It weighs 525 lbs and took three strong, struggling men to bring it into the house.

The woodsplitter in front of the woodpile next to the shed

Once all that wood was cut into logs and split, it had to be stored.

Splitting the wood

the massive and powerful gasoline-powered splitter, up close

I spent about 4 days stacking it into the woodshed.  It’s heavy, tedious work, but I kind of enjoyed it.  I have always admired a neatly-stacked woodpile, and there are many ways to stack and store the wood to maximize ventilation (good airflow so the wood can dry out) and weather protection (from snow, rain, animals and insects).  Besides the esoteric beauty of the pile’s pattern and design, and developing a healthy pair of biceps, stacking wood gave me a chance to think about all sorts of things (or not!) without distraction.  By the fourth day of this focused toil, I was convinced that we could lessen the affects of juvenile ADD by having schoolchildren stack wood for a couple of hours every day!

the now-split wood in front of our 12' x 16' woodshed (note the mezuzah!) Now it must be stacked, a log at a time, inside the shed.

At this point our woodshed is only 1/3 full; the wood is piled 6' high. Our Standard Poodle is wearing a blaze-orange bandana in case he is mistaken for a bear during hunting season - a genuine concern!

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by amy on October 19, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    I believe that things and people come into my life for a reason, if only to pass things along. I forwarded your blog to my sister as it seemed to fit what is going on in her life right now. She just sent me back an e-mail of thanks. Just to let you know you made a difference in two people’s lives today. All the best,
    -amy

    Reply

  2. Posted by Tiger Mike on October 21, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    What you are doing I want to do. But in Alaska.

    Reply

  3. How’s your wood doing at drying out in the shed? I have a few nice piles stacked up against one another in the open garage now, but was wondering if everything will be dry come late Autumn. My father always tells me I need to stack outside, but seeing all the wood sheds around here, I’m inclined to put up some sort of argument.

    Reply

    • Lots of possible answers to this question. If leaving outside I’d stack them sort of like a lincoln log box so thete is ample air space. Our shed is 12×16 but there is open air space under the eaves and a wide open entry. Otoh we also have an unstacked pile under tarp because we didn’t have room in the shed that will sit for two years. It is not appropriate to leave birch outside uncovered since it absorbs water and is subject to both rot and dry rot.
      As an aside…we just measured this year’s wood use…only 1.5 cords! True we were gone a few weeks of winter but the maximum would have been 2 cords! This is for heating 1100 sq. ft. So we did very well for a cold winter…can’t recommend spray foam insulation and passive solar highly enough!!!!

      Reply

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