In the Woods

We have about 12 acres of woods on our farm.

I remember the first visit we paid to our place, the day after we bought it. I remember looking up at the trees and thinking that my ownership was really a custodianship…that the trees and I shared possession of this place.

The trees

Forest light

Over the 26 years that we have lived here Sally and I have changed our place in order to help it to sustain us, and trees play a significant role in that sustenance. We have cleared some acreage but retained some woods, and they are a vital part of our lives here. They cool us as we walk through on hot summer days. They frame our sunsets and delight our eye.

In January and February we enter the woods with a different purpose. We scout for trees that have died and can be harvested for firewood. We heat our home and barn with this wood, and in my younger days I would sell any excess to bring in a bit of cash. We also scout for trees that are losing in their competition with more substantial trees, or that are growing out toward our Christmas tree fields. We harvest these, and we use the oaks to inoculate with Shiitake mushroom spawn, to yield delicious and valuable mushrooms in a year’s time.

Work in the woods is solitary and unhurried, and following on the rush and tight schedule of the Christmas tree sales season it is a welcomed respite. Sally and I walk the woods with string and mark the trees that we agree need to be thinned. Either of us can take off the string, if we change our minds. Then I take my saw and cut the trees as carefully as I can, dropping them with as little damage as possible to other trees. I saw them into firewood logs or mushroom logs, depending on the kind of tree, and then haul the wood to the splitter or log storage area. I also sit by the stumps of the larger trees and count the rings, carrying myself back beyond our ownership of this land, beyond my lifetime and often beyond the lifetimes of my parents and grandparents. Some trees that we have taken down after they died have been over 200 years old, and many are more than 100. Ancient life by our standards.

Oak

One of our oldest

One of my favorite tasks used to be the hand-splitting of the firewood logs. It took strength and skill and provided a good workout to start each chilly day. But I got old, the maul got too heavy to swing, and we bought a powered splitter. It does a great job, but I miss the intimacy of the hand splitter. Not so long ago nearly everyone split their own wood. Few have that pleasure today.

We burn about 4 cords of wood a year in our stoves, and we put up about 350 mushroom logs. Part of nearly every day in January and February is connected with wood management.

Hand-splitting firewood logs

The firewood operation

As the days grow a bit longer in late February we finish with our yearly sojourn among the trees and turn our attention back to more structured activities, such as garden preparation and log inoculation. The trees become the woods again and take up their familiar place in our farm environment.

Yearly sojourn