The Warmth of July
In today’s heat, preparing for November’s chill
By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
I have been cutting firewood of late, which is not the smartest thing to do, all things considered. The aforementioned things considered are twofold: One, heat. And two, humidity. Putting up firewood is best done in spring or fall, when the air is bracing and enervating with chill.
But spring passed; I was doing other things. Fall yet to come but I’m not going to wrestle a chainsaw during hunt season. So summer it is. Days of heat and humidity; the snarl of a chainsaw in the muggy air.
Rather than do the smart thing which is to get out during the coolness after daybreak, I’ve instead watched the Tour de France which takes up a few hours and puts me in the woods late morning when the sun has risen and brought heat.
I take the pup with me. The heat, the noise, the gas fumes; they must bother her. She puts up with it because she wants to be with me and wants as much as anything to be in the woods. She does not do well in the swelter, wears the heat as a heavy coat.
I’m cutting an area that was logged the past two years, cutting up leftover slash, tree tops and smallish logs that I would normally pass over. But I hate to waste them, hate to leave it all to rot and decay. I have more firewood at my hunting shack than I’ll ever use. I don’t need more. I cut it regardless; the thought of wasting it drives me.
It’s all oak, the slash, red oak. I’ll dry it for two or three years, then burn it on a November night when the wind blows cold and mean and the snow rattles against the windows. The wood stove will glow red in the dark of the night as the temperature drops and the lake ice forms and groans in the darkness.
That’s a long time off. Difficult to think of November in July when the temperatures vault past eighty and the humidity weights the air and the dog pants hard. Not a good time to put up firewood.
There is no real road, just a rutted track from the logging machines. I drive it anyway, picking my way over the ruts and gouges in the dirt, over stump and rock and logging debris. The truck lurches and sways and I think to myself that this also is not the smartest thing to do.
A side story. I’d replaced the tires on the truck this spring; they’d gotten badly worn. “Nice slicks,” the guy at the shop told me, regarding the thin-treaded, well-used rubber, long past prime. The new ones glistened in a black sheen, deep treads promising traction in mud and snow; all season, all weather.
I drove off road on an old logging lane, tires gripping like cat’s claws. I drifted a shade wide and heard an odd sound, a shissing sound; brief but distinctive. Strange, I thought to myself. I stopped, got out, inspected the still-new tires.
I’d run over an old log, long downed, mostly rotted save for a short stub of a branch that had hardened over the years. I’d hit that wooden spike just right. The sound I’d heard was the sound a tire makes when it’s sliced wide open, a five-inch cut in the sidewall; a buck knife could not have done better. Flat as the proverbial pancake, well off any packed dirt let alone pavement.
I was unhappy about this.
I backed the truck, wilted tire flat against the rim, backed it to a level section, stopped the truck and got out, stood, swatting mosquitoes and wondering where the spare tire and jack were.
I found the spare, changed it, tossed the slashed new tire in the back of the truck, drove to the shop, told the guy, “That new tire you sold me’s not holding air so good. Lemme know what you find.”
Now I was back, traction to spare, but nervous; memory of the instant flat remained strong. Every time I leave the blacktop my mind goes to the stick-cut tire. I picked my way along, cautious, nervous.
I drove to where the tree tops lie, began to cut. Bella watched. It was hot in the woods but there was shade and she lay, waited for me. I usually cut for an hour or until I run out of gas, whichever comes first. Then I loaded the logs in the truck, called Bella and we drove, cautiously, on the road that is not a road. I stacked the firewood and took Bella to the lake to cool down.
Next day off we do it again.
Cutting firewood is a pleasant monotony, a simple repetition. In that monotony it reminds of picking blackberries; pick, drop to bucket, repeat. Cutting wood is similar; rev saw, cut, repeat. But more. In both berry picking and firewood cutting, the world becomes very small, not much more than the length of one’s arms. In that small world everything is in tight focus, even more so with firewood where the ear muffs cut sound to a muted rumble as if distant thunder.
In that small world the cares and burdens of the large world fall away. The activities, picking and cutting, become as escape; in the monotony comes a meditation.
The small world of monotony can become enlivened of course. The shower of spark when saw nicks rock. The knowledge that chain saw does not favor oak over flesh and a misstep can bring injury, and serious injury at that. And, for Bella, two times stung by hornets. Mostly though, a pleasant monotony, a welcome simplicity.
The heat of July beats down. I stack the newly cut wood, breathe in the tangy, sour smell of oak. And I think of November’s chill three years hence when I’ll carry the wood one more time, put it to the fire and feel the warmth of July.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.