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Winter Rhythms

December 6, 2010

As we slide into winter I become even more aware of the continuity of our life, or more specifically our life on this land.  We began to see the fruits of our summer labor.  Hay and straw in the barn for the cows, food preserved, or in that state of waiting called a pantry, and the thing that is most on my mind these days.  Wood.

Nice stack art, Hangdog.

In the winter months our seasoned wood stockpile keeps us warm, preheats our water, and cooks our food.  This doesn’t even take into account that our wood supply cleans up storm damage, manages the forest by taking out diseased trees or gives us lots of  meaningful exercise.

Our wood cookstove is very important to me for sentimental reasons.  It’s been here since it was new in 1917 and only out of service for a month or two in 1984 while being refurbished for the next six or seven decade run.  Pots and pans come and go, but the stove and the stove work remain.

Our cookstove habits just may represent the best stacking yet in our lifestyle.  I live in the Pacific Northwest on the western slopes of the Cascade Range.  It rains here a lot.  100 inches a lot.  A fire is a must most days from October – June.  With the fire in the cookstove, I can accomplish a lot more than just cooking a meal.

On any given day:

♥  The stockpot is always on the stove, kind a catch-all for all the vegetable trimmings, bones etc., from food preparation.

♥  The tea kettle is always hot, and providing humidity.

♥  Beans can soak on the cool edge, or cook if placed on the warm middle.

♥  Meals are cooked.

♥  Seeds may be drying in the warming oven.  (doors open, of course)

♥ Jerky may be drying in the oven.   (door open, of course, or the jerky becomes sawdust and a snack for the fire.)

♥ The honey and molasses aren’t sluggish because they are on the corner of the stove out of the way.  Not hot, not cold, but just right.

♥  Socks and gloves may be drying on the rack above the stove.

♥  And my brain is engaged thinking about what kind of kitchen wood I need for the tasks of that particular day.  Hot wood for cooking, round wood for simmering, or a mix.  Will I be outside for hours, and need more simmering or will I be there all day close by and can use mediocre, punky pecker wood?  The nuances are endless.  My woodpile to me is viewed with special glasses, whether it is in the shed, or in the woodbox next to the stove.  I can’t be wasteful and use all my hot wood for simmering, and I can’t  expect pecker wood to fry hash browns either or bring a kettle to a boil in a timely fashion.

♥  And it keeps us warm, while heating half the house, with minimum amount of wood.

Looks like CVG to me it’s so tight.  Douglas Fir limb wood.    Or in new woods lingo  – that  is one BAL!  Big Ass Limb.

The coniferous forest zone we live in is the Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) zone.  Western Hemlock is the dominate species if this was a climax forest, however forest fires (the worst in 1902) and logging have “cleared” the way for Douglas Fir (Pseudosuga menziesii) to slip down the mountain slopes and proliferate.  On parts of our farm where succession has been allowed to proceed, Western Hemlock is the dominate species showing up again.  Doghair Hemlock is the common term in these parts because it reseeds so thick when allowed.  Personally I am glad to be living in this blip of time of forest building, lots of Douglas Fir and only a little Hemlock.   I split wood daily, and I would rather gouge my eyes out (well, that is an exaggeration) than split Hemlock firewood.  No matter how clear it is, it works you, hard.

We burn predominately fir, because that is what grows here.  The tree is was a little older than me before a windstorm toppled it.  If you look at the growth rings you can see the different stages and weather patterns this tree experienced.  This piece is destined for the furnace, but not before I bust off the corners for kindling or kitchen wood.  See, this tree was full of life when it died, it will burn hot.  A good candidate for some kitchen wood.  How do I know it was alive?  Well, partly because I know this tree, where it grew as I did, and how it died like I hope to.  Quick and fast, and where I live.  Besides all that sappy stuff, (and I don’t mean the pitch) I can tell by the color, the condition of the bark, and the scent of the wood.  It smells alive, compared to an old buckskin that is missing its bark, and its bite (as in fire.)  I like buckskins too, for usually they are clear and easy to split and they moderate the hot wood when you don’t need such a rip-roaring fire.  Each type and piece of wood is appreciated and used to the best of my knowledge.

The chores of tending a fire seem onerous to some in these days of central heat and cooling.  Besides heating and cooking, our fires provide ashes for the gardens, or entertainment for pups who seem to think the ash scraper is a varmint in the stove.  Every time I clean out the ash tray, they are there to “help.”  It might make me seem kind of slow to get enjoyment from such a simple thing as cleaning out a firebox or reading the wood pile, but it is simply living, simply.

41 Comments leave one →
  1. December 6, 2010 12:15 am

    Greetings matronofhusbandry. I like all the writing about the stove, but can I see a wide shot of it? I’m curious how it compares to the stoves out where I live. Cheers, Brent.

  2. December 6, 2010 2:39 am

    Man, oh, man, did this one make me jealous!! I’ve always wanted a wood cookstove, and I doubt I’ll ever have one. The way you so eloquently describe the various woods for various conditions.

    And the holly picture was stunning. Holly doesn’t grow here, but does farther south at my mom’s. I also loved the picture of the fire through the lid lifter handle.

    We burn wood for heat at night and on cloudy days, as we have a passive solar house.

    I really loved this post. Thanks!!

    • December 6, 2010 6:26 am

      Pam, holly is considered by some a noxious weed in these parts. The noxious weed list changes as fast as Hollywood marriages though… I grows naturally around here, and is beautiful, it isn’t really invasive here but you do see the occasional tree at bird hangouts. That particular one is in the hedgerow near one of the pastures.

      When I was a kid I used to think all the wood was the same. Until I started splitting and burning – there is a huge difference in the properties of all the wood. Holly burns good and holds a good fire 😉

      I wish I had a passive solar house, but its “greener” for me to deal with what I have stove and house-wise than it is to build or buy new.

  3. December 6, 2010 4:25 am

    ok, a picture/description of peckerwood, please! I had no idea that it actually referred to wood!

    • December 6, 2010 6:29 am

      Hayden, that’s funny, it is real and a has pecker holes hence the name. They love dead trees, and there are lots here because our forest is fairly natural, and a living, morphing thing. I’ll get a picture next time I take the camera with me 🙂

  4. December 6, 2010 4:42 am

    I love this post! I’ve always wanted a wood cookstove. Of course, at this point I’d have no idea how to use it, so reading things like this gives me a little glimpse of what I hope to someday have for my own home. Thanks.

    • December 6, 2010 6:30 am

      Rachel, you’re welcome. There is a skill set involved for sure. But it’s second nature to me now and very enjoyable.

  5. December 6, 2010 6:16 am

    I so wish that I could have a woodstove, a wood cookstove would be amazing. You are living the life that many of us dream we could live.

    • December 6, 2010 6:37 am

      The Mom, thank you. Woodstoves make sense in areas where there is plentiful wood, and you sure can’t beat the warmth of the heat they generate. It’s funny you should say that about about our life – most of my life I have not been “cool” because I chose not to change too much of what went on here on the farm. Now I am glad I did when times were easier. I feel somewhat confident we kept the right systems in place and discarded some that were too outdated. It’s still a nice to live when we can pick and choose. 🙂

  6. December 6, 2010 6:23 am

    We primarily burn cottonwood, ash, apple and some ponderosa pine. You are absolutely right that each piece, or type of wood has it’s own heat signature. Right now we’re in a warm up spell, til next weekend, so we’ll be primarily burning the smaller / odds and ends pieces of wood. Just enought to keep the chill off till evening then we’ll use a mixture of woods depending on the BTU’s we desire.

    I love it when we have apple wood, as it smells so wonderful while burning and has fairly high BTU output. Of course the only apple wood we burn is from trees that were dead, dying trees, we work hard to avoid burning diseased apple wood, so as not to spread any spores to our own fruit trees. Where we live, well…. this used to be the “Fruit Basket” for a 200 mile+ area. Now, sadly many of those beautiful orchards have been abandoned and are full of standing dead trees.

    We also have a few trees along the river’s edge we manage to keep trimmed and neat, this gives us wood( limbs) as well as tiny branches, which we collect and bundle for kindling( we do this with all the fruit tree sucklers too) We have several cotton wood and willows that have self seeded in the bottom of our front pasture and we’re working hard to encourage them for a future( 10-20 yrs away) wood lot! Plus they offer shade to the animals as well as a wind break and shelter from the flies and misquitoes. There are a couple trees the cows have designated as their rub trees as well*wink*

    Wood is work, but the payback in my mind is two+ fold!

    • December 6, 2010 7:45 am

      Kelle, I like hearing about different wood types from different areas. Yours sound so different than ours.

      It’s mostly conifers here with a few feral cherry and apple trees, and some cottonwood and an occasional soft maple here and there. Cherry and chestnut get saved for keeping a fire all night. But I have to say my favorite is alder, just because that is what my gardening mentors burned and the scent just immediately takes me back to their cozy kitchen. They were my surrogate grandparents, and I miss them terribly sometimes, and on those days I throw on a piece of alder – it’s very comforting. It’s funny too, that alder is considered a trash tree by production standards, but it is the clover of the woods fixing nitrogen for the future forest. Of course that cycle adds in about 70 years to the logging schedule and no one can’t wait for that. Log trucks go by everyday, with trees smaller than the limb wood we are burning!

  7. December 6, 2010 7:22 am

    I love that you are so mindful of your wood and use it for the best purposes for your cooking.
    I still think you should write a book about your life on your family farm.

    Nita, you are living your life like many of us would if we could. Those are great pictures and I love the one of the dogs helping you clean out the oven.

    • December 6, 2010 7:49 am

      Finding Pam, you’re so nice to me – thank you! I agree, I think more people are learning to live like this – and it’s not so bad, and it sure keeps me out of trouble – most of time 😉

      Those dogs are crazy! They are just sure there is a swift or something in there, of course the drive pipe to the ram sounds like something too, so they have great fun trying to hunt everywhere! I like the personality of dogs, they are always so happy no matter what they are doing. 🙂

  8. December 6, 2010 7:47 am

    I am envious of your wood stove. In building our new straw bale home we seriously considered a kitchen wood stove. In the end though, we went with a regular boring old electric range for the kitchen. We did go ahead and purchase a smaller wood stove however…it isn’t a fluffy fancy decorative stove. It is a cast iron stove with a gridle for cooking. I love your big, wonderful kitchen stove though!

    • December 6, 2010 7:52 am

      John, put me down as envious of the R-factor of your straw bale construction! We are slowly adding insulation to the house, which means less wood and more comfort. I have an electric range too – for summer or when I don’t need a fire. It seems wasteful to me to burn wood when it is hot outside. Or maybe I am just lazy 🙂 Thanks for the posts about your house – they are great!

  9. December 6, 2010 8:16 am

    I am jealous!!!! I have wanted a wood cook stove FOREVER!!!! But HEY! I’m also very glad for you!


  10. sderoote permalink
    December 6, 2010 8:19 am

    Thank you for the lovely and inspiring post.

  11. December 6, 2010 10:18 am

    Another great post. I wish we had room for a wood lot. I have a native filbert out front that I’m planning on coppicing, once it gets big enough, since I’ve planted regular hazelnuts in the backyard.

    We were lucky to get our firewood for nothing this year: our sweetgum needed thinning, so we have that. A large tree was taken out and stacked in three foot lengths on the next street, so after the tree crew left for the day we ran over with the wheelbarrow and snagged them. And then one of the neighbors had to take down one of their pines, so they let us have that.

    I love wood heat way better’n any other kind: it’s constant and permeating.

    • December 7, 2010 7:36 am

      Paula, the wood heat is nice and so encompassing, that’s great you snagged that wood. We pick up free wood where ever we find it!

  12. December 6, 2010 10:19 am

    The photos and post are so informative, I was raised in Northern Alberta with a Cast Iron kitchen stove but have not had one for years now.. the closest we get now, is the little cast iron stove that I use to boil my maple syrup sap on in the spring, its also a backup just in case for heat..

    Your post about how old the stove is, brings back childhood memories, we used to take the horse’s an ride to a old handmade log cabin that had a cast iron cook stove in it, and camp out.. It would have been around the same age as your stove, (but not nearly as well looked after) It was a old homestead at one time, but no one had lived there for years when we found it one time on the trail and we all loved it so much that we went back a number of times.

    • December 7, 2010 7:38 am

      JADOTHF, mmm maple sap sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing your camping story – I could picture the trail ride to the cabin and feel the warmth of the stove 🙂

  13. December 6, 2010 10:43 am

    I just wanted to say I love your site. I recently stumbled upon it and am enjoying what you share 🙂

  14. December 6, 2010 11:49 am

    I love the holly! You could just say that you get close to 8 feet of rain a year instead 😉

    • December 7, 2010 7:39 am

      Linda, I love the holly too – and it’s always green, the berries stay until late spring and the blooms have the most heavenly scent you wouldn’t believe it!

      If I said we got 8 feet of rain no one would believe me 😉 Especially if I added that if you went about 50 miles east as the crow flies the rainfall would only be about 14 inches a year!

  15. Annette permalink
    December 6, 2010 1:10 pm

    ‘heart’ my wood cook stove!

  16. December 6, 2010 2:07 pm

    Wonderful pictures and text as always! The picture of the woodpile made my boyfriend exclaim with a combination of glee and jealousy!

    We use woodburners for our primary heat here – we have gas powered heating too but it’s cheaper to use the woodburners – we get a lot of free or very cheap wood. I read somewhere (possibly here?!) that wood should warm you three times: once when you fell the tree, once when you split it and once when it’s on the stove — that’s certainly true here. We have friends/relatives who use chainsaws and electric power saws for all their chopping – we try to do as much of it as possible by hand because, as you say, it’s wonderful exercise.

    I love the simplicity of the actions – I find chopping kindling memorising, the burst of victory when a tough log finally splits and the joy when I poke dying embers back into flame. I’m not so keen on emptying the ash pan though – I’m paranoid about sneezing the whole way!

    • December 7, 2010 7:47 am

      Louisa, I couldn’t resist taking that picture. The pattern the different wood made was hidden until I hauled the adjacent stacks to the house.

      My hubby does use the chainsaw to fell the tree and cut the wood in to stove length, but the splitting is all done by hand, either axe or maul and maul and wedge. Reading the tree helps to know how to go about splitting. I do the rest of the splitting if needed.

      That’s funny you should mention that about kindling, I find it enjoyable too from selecting the wood, to splitting it as fine as I can. Wood and water seem to be all consuming tasks year round for us.

  17. December 6, 2010 2:25 pm

    WOW…had to bring hubby in here to show him your hubbies stacking abilities…LOL I normally do the stacking around here, while he splits it. Let’s just say mine doesn’t compare to yours 😉 How do you apply the ashes to your garden? Just sprinkle them around? We just dumped some in last year and kind of mixed it around, but didn’t get many things to grow in that spot…:-(

    Have envied you cookstove for awhile now…<3 it, and the memories that are with it!

    • December 7, 2010 7:50 am

      Kristen, oh my we dont’ dare mess with the stack! It has to be just so 😉

      I just sprinkle the ashes on top the soil, the rain washes them in. And around the leaf line of the fruit trees too. The fires burns hot and clean, so the ash detail is not very big really, unless we get a cold spell and I get into my chestnut and cherry stash of nightwood. Then I have to really keep up with the ashes.

  18. December 6, 2010 2:41 pm

    Taking it a bit more easy and enjoying the fruit (and wood) of our labor has to be one the best parts of country life. I think you either get it or you don’t!

    Happy winter!

  19. December 6, 2010 2:51 pm

    Nita, I counted the rings. ;- ) I imagine fir trees would smell wonderful when burning. We are surrounded by pine trees here and we often have them coming up as seedings that I pull out. Hanno hates wood stoves so I’m bound to cook on a gas range, darn it. I do always love to read about cooking on a wood stove so thank you for todays post. I especially like that you respect the local resources that help you live your chosen way. I’d love to share a tea or two beside that stove you with and the dogs. One day.

    • December 7, 2010 7:55 am

      Rhonda Jean, I did too! The tree was a little sapling when I was born, maybe Christmas tree size. It’s fun to think of it being a little tyke in the big forest!

      I don’t know what I would do without the cook stove sometimes. When it was out for two months at the stove hospital, we had to put a table there to put things on and to fill the empty space. We could hardly walk by without falling into the hole it left, but really it felt like the hole was in our hearts, our old warm, comforting friend wasn’t there.

      Tea would be lovely!

  20. December 6, 2010 5:11 pm

    We are going to be hard pressed to ever return to central heat after having heated solely with wood for the last three years. Aldo Leopold has an incredible quote in the “Sand County Almanac” about cutting down wood and learning history as you saw through the layers of each ring. It really captures the reverence of heating this way.

    We are in Portland, and hear you about the rain. October was a bit nicer for us this year, but there is still a fire going from 10 am till midnight every day.

    • Throwback at Trapper Creek permalink
      December 7, 2010 7:59 am

      Granola Girl, I agree it would be hard to have central heating, it just never seems as warm to me. It’s been warm enough to run the cookstove during the day, and then switch to the wood furnace at chore time. That really makes the water hot, and I can do laundry and dishes with really hot water. Our electric bill goes down in the winter because of the hot water being heated by the furnace. That’s a pretty nice perk in itself!

      I’m a die hard Oregonian – I like the rain, and am glad it is raining and not snowing. I caught a glimpse of Mt Hood yesterday and it looks gorgeous with its new white cloak!

  21. December 8, 2010 1:16 pm

    I envy the wood fire. One of our near-term projects is to install a wood-fired-somethingorother into our gas-furnace-era home.

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