Hermit Creek Farm 65554 Spring Brook Rd High Bridge, WI 54846 Google Map 715-492-5969
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Bowling Pin Wood

Posted 3/4/2015 12:00am by Landis Spickerman.

It's been quite a while since I last wrote something, and the muse has still not surfaced so thought I'd share Landis' latest piece that she wrote for our CSA newsletter. It struck a chord about our life during the cold months when we aren't stooped over a bed of carrots or elbow deep in washing salad mix. So from our March, 2015 CSA newsletter:

"I know it is cold, cold, cold outside. The first glance at the thermometer registered minus eight degrees this morning. Brrrr! The good news is, we are heading towards a warming trend with a balmy twenty degrees by the middle of the week.      

Every year at about this time, like clockwork, I am reminded of the old saying about firewood: “it warms you twice: once while gathering it and once it is in the wood stove.” To me, it epitomizes the perfect frugality necessary for a small farm. That is, everything must give in multiple ways, everything has multiple uses, and it must be the simplest solution.      

Steven and I spend the winter months gathering firewood. We heat our house, our sauna, our greenhouse, and our maple syrup evaporator with wood. There is a point in March where we have four fires going (too many pokers in the fire, eh?). Masochistically, we might even grill for dinner!      

I have had a lifelong love affair with trees and it deepens each year when my survival during these brutal winter months depends upon them. Then soon, we’ll begin the maple tapping ritual, which is truly a sign of a new season and my awe for trees (something sooo delicious from a piece of wood?!) deepens. A farmer’s world contracts in winter to little more than the barn and the woodlot. And since we have just a few chickens during the winter, our world shrinks to just the woodlot.      

You see the woods quite differently in winter woodcutting than you do in any other activity or at any other time of year. There is a simplicity and even an abstractness to the scene. The grays and gray-browns of tree trunks, which you would hardly notice in spring, summer, or fall, now leap at your eye. A green-needled hemlock is visible a hundred yards away, as conspicuous as a girl in a green raincoat would be on a Florida beach. The snow has covered all the ferns, and leaves, and rocks so that the floor is the plainest possible white-on-white. Apart from your own clumsy tracks, there is a slim deer trail running along a draw. Sometimes you see coyote tracks and what you guess to be red-squirrel tracks. Nothing else.      

Or, rather, nothing else on cloudy days. On sunny days there is one thing more. On sunny days the snow gradually turns from pale gold to yellow gold as noon approaches, and then gradually fades again. By three o’clock on a January afternoon it is the palest of ash blonds. And then it happens. A faint rose color begins to appear. Slowly it gets stronger until just as the sun sets the whole floor is lightly but clearly washed with pink.      

Except when Steven is chainsawing, the scene is as quiet as it is simple. It may be the quietest place I’ve ever been. There are no leaves on the trees to rustle. There are no songbirds. We live on a road that goes no where, connecting nothing, so many days after a snowfall, it is just our tracks and our dogs’ on the road bed. The silence is total.      

Even on these bitter cold days, as the work progresses, we shed our layers. I often think of Mardy Murie’s description of a dog sledding trip in the Alaskan frontier with her distinguished biologist husband, Olaus J. Murie in her book “Two In The Far North”. She describes getting down to shirt sleeves while padding behind the team on a -20F day. When I read the book, I didn’t know what she meant. Now I do.      

Our process is simple. We search for standing, small diameter dead maple. The best is peeled maple, which is rock hard and throws out Btu’s like you wouldn’t believe. Our friend Jim used to call this type of firewood, “bowling pin wood” for it makes the sound of bowling pins clinking together when you load it into the back of the pickup truck. Once found Steven cuts the trees up and I sled them out of the woods with our otter sled. Three truck loads make a cord and we figure we need about 10 cords. There’s no rush to get the work done. We just need to “keep at it” in order to keep up. Pleasant work all ‘round we’d say.      

There have been hundreds of days in the winter woods when we’ve been alone with the sun, the snow, the shadows, and the trees. There is no more peaceful place. A northern Wisconsin woodlot is a little cold, and the days are short, but I’ll take it over lying on a Florida beach any time."


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