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the woods

April 2, 2008

 Woodsa.  short for the “the logging woods.”  This means more to a logger than any other word.  It is a job and home both.  A man going to the woods is going to work in a logging camp.  Back to the woods means back to the job.  b.  Also used to mean uncut timber; in this sense, the word “bush” is used in Canada.
Woods Words  – Walter McCulloch  1958

      My Dad, on a  hauling job, 3 log load ca. 1920’s

I think of our place as a farm, but really in my mind it is a forest with pastureland leapfrogged along it’s length.  If I really think about how much my life revolves around our woods, I realize I’m a child of the woods.  A child of loggers.  A child who was taught to respect the woods.  As a child, I would play in the woods much more than out in the open pastures.  A safe haven, full of surprises and wood sorrel  and miners lettuce salads for a kid, and her dogs.  Many a long summer day, I spent in the company of my doggy entourage laying on windfall logs, watching our cattle herd.

My dad,  measuring Douglas Fir, he’s 5’8″ – 1940

I also used to think the wood in the cord-wood stacks were just wood.  I had no idea of the different properties that each wood held for the wood-stove or the furnace.  How much could be involved?  Just put the wood in, and bask in the warmth.  I gradually learned it wasn’t just firewood.  Keeping the fire going was a very complex job.  Depending on when the wood was cut, what type of wood, how it was split and cured all made a difference.  Was the tree alive and healthy, sap up or sap down,  alive and sickly, dead standing, or dead and  lying on the ground… these were all things I didn’t think made a difference.  It’s also something you can’t learn by reading about .  Until you make the connection of the tree’s former life and you see how it burns, you won’t know.  My brother always quizzed me on the facts about the wood, we also played this game with our hay crop.  Flash cards for rednecks, I guess.   If you buy your wood, you have no idea what time of year it was cut, or if it was sick or not. 

 We use what we have.  In our area, that is Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, and to a lesser degree because of our forest zone, a small amount of Big Leaf Maple, or Red Alder.  Each species has specific attributes that define if we like to use it or not.  We also have a good supply of feral trees like Chinese Chestnut, Mazzard Cherry, Apple, and various other fruit woods.

My favorite wood to burn and why?  Douglas Fir.  This comes as a surprise to many I’m sure.  We are taught to burn hardwoods, aren’t we?  Hold a fire longer, less creosote in the chimney, denser wood molecules…   Well, as someone whose only heat is wood and has learned the ways of the woods, I will pick good ol’ DF anytime.   Of course, this is what I have a plentiful supply of, so it would be foolish to buy wood from an outside source.  Wherever you are located, you should use what you have.  Our wood snob friends who will only burn hardwood, spend a lot of time traveling and burning fossil fuel to procure “free” wood to burn, instead of what is growing (and needs attention) on their own acreage.  We got two cords of that high priced “free” oak wood from them two years ago.  I was looking forward to using it, since our stock of “night wood” (chestnut & cherry) was low.  I couldn’t make it last any longer in the furnace than the fir.  It was good wood, but those two days we spent helping them cut that firewood, could have been better spent at home, cleaning up our own storm damage.  Lesson learned.  Upside, I made some killer lye with those oak ashes!

Cutting wood before scheduled surgery.
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 Someone has to do the hard work of taking the picture! 
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Work like this is what taught me how to split wood and not to waste it in the fire.  She’s splitting from the top down, which means when you set the block of wood on it’s end to split it, split from the top the way the tree grew.  This tree was dead standing, about 50 years old.  It had two tops, so it probably was damaged in an ice storm approximately 25 years ago.  The larger trees have choked it out, so it has been declining for some time.  So while the wood will burn, it won’t be a hot fire, it will go in the woodshed to cure for about 3 months.  This type of wood, would be OK for spring or fall fires.  At those times we probably will build a “smudge”  just to take off the chill.  We put the hay in the barn the same way.  When the cows come off of grass and are grass fat, it is early in their pregnancy and they can utilize a lesser quality hay.  I want to feed them our best hay at the end of their pregnancy, in early spring.

We aren’t concerned about picking up every limb.  So we leave quite a bit of carbon behind to begin nutrient cycling.  We also don’t have much impact, choosing days when the ground is frozen or dry.   We also plan tree felling around bird nesting schedules.  This grove is a natural seeded stand, it was originally logged in the 19 teens.  My mom recalled walking through the head- high bracken fern to get to school.  What is unusual about the stand is that, normally dog hair hemlock comes up and this particular area is completely Douglas fir.

Punky Douglas fir, OK for spring or fall fires.  Cut 12/31/07.
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Dogs looking in the wood window.  “We’re helping!”
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We fill our basement with firewood throughout the summer and fall.  Trying to leave ourselves access to our “night wood.”  It never really got cold enough this winter for us to keep the fire going all night.  Our cook-stove heats quickly in the morning, and it will heat two rooms adequately.  I usually build a fire in the furnace in the late afternoon and let the cook-stove go out, unless I’m using it to cook dinner.  So I saved all our cherry, chestnut and fir limb wood for next year.  The basement isn’t really empty, but I have been hauling jags of firewood from the shed to the house as needed.  The dead wood we made up in December is now dry enough to burn. 

I started writing this post last week, and put it aside.  This weekend we watched part of Axmen, a History Channel  series on Pacific Northwest Logging.  I can barely watch, but not for the reasons you might think.  Of course, they are showing state forest land in the Coastal Mountain range, where huge clear cuts are the norm.  But, remember the state is making those rules.  I cringe watching those steep slopes being stripped.  But, what really hit home for me is the danger and how close to home that is to me.  It isn’t an easy way to make a living, it is dangerous and thankless work.  If there was no demand for paper and lumber products, I’m sure there would be no logging.  Right now, there is a high-lead show near us, and I’m nervous every day – I listen to the whistle punk signals and I worry.  Those men who drive by my house every morning and afternoon in their crummy (car-pooling) are earning an honest living.  In the past, the men in my family have went off to the woods on a daily basis, and like a sailor’s wife scanning the horizon, you breathe a sigh of relief when they come home. They don’t call falling wood, widow maker for nothing.   Every profession has its scalpers, I can’t say I’m for all logging, at all costs.  But, it does have its place in our world as we know it.  Hopefully, I won’t hear the Longggggggggggg signal ever.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2008 5:46 pm

    What a great post! I always learn something from you, ALWAYS! We burn what we have which is cottonwood (too soft) and we have access to a pile of carpenter castoffs of oak and maple. We also have used coal which is mined not far from here but I HATE the smell.

  2. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    April 2, 2008 7:39 pm

    We’ve burned cottonwood before – but it takes it a longggg time to cure. We do get hardwood flooring scraps sometimes, but I don’t put those ashes on the garden because some of the woods are exotic and I’m just not sure about their properties.

    There is a coal plant in Eastern Oregon (why I’m not sure, since hydroelectric is king around here) Now the gorge is socked in most of the time with pollution. Some say it is the coal plant, others blame the large Tillamook dairy that is sited there. The hydro is cleaner, but hard on the fish, there are some companies building wind farms, and even people are complaining about that. The other day there was a turn out your lights day – we looked towards Portland that night, and it was as light as could be. During the “energy crisis” in the 1970’s, business’s were required to turn off lights after business hours, and that really worked. Hmmm – maybe someone will come up with that “new” idea!

    I worked for the forest service in the early 80’s and we photographed the pollution on a weekly basis. At that time, it wasn’t until late in the summer that there would be a day you couldn’t see clearly up and down the river for miles. Now with the influx of people clustered around Portland and Vancouver, WA., it is a rare day that it is clear! From our house we have a good view towards Portland and air always just looks dirty.

  3. April 2, 2008 8:29 pm

    Interesting post. (All of yours are of course). We burn wood too, in an outdoor wood furnace. Not as efficient as an indoor stove, but safer for us in our ancient wooden monstrosity. I used to be a bit of a wood snob, but now except in the coldest part of winter when “good” wood is absolutely essential I burn what the guys bring me. Box elder, bass wood…whatever. Today for some reason the fire went out completely so I had to build a new fire. I was grateful for the fatwood Florida Cracker sent me last year.

  4. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    April 2, 2008 9:51 pm


    thank you. Our cousins have a furnace like that, it is safer.
    I need to knock on wood (ha ha), we live in an ancient wood monstrosity too, although not as old as yours. I always worry, and I’m a fanatic about the chimney and stovepipes.
    I think the fatwood is similar to our fir – we save out the pitchy pieces just for kindling.

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