Wood Burning

Evolution is pretty much a foregone scientific conclusion except for our brethren on the right. That we have moved from monkey to man is well established in most quarters. Like any scientific theory – it also has application in other aspects of life. Tracing the development of wood burning to a high efficiency gas furnace parallels evolutionary theory.

There were cool wet winters in northern Iowa. A brisk walk from work was rewarded by the smells and warmth of the cozy kitchen fired by the wall furnaces that heated our old farm house. Then came Bemidji.

They say the cold isn’t so bad here – it’s dry cold – not wet and penetrating – bottom-line, it’s still cold. A house needs to be heated.

My first summer I ordered eight cords – mixed hardwoods, thirty three bucks a cord – eight foot lengths. My father-in-law said, “Cut it and its money in the bank come winter.” With an inherited Poulan chainsaw, I tore into the pile that was stacked the height and length of my garage. On my days off I’d wrap an old diaper from my youngest around my head – safety pin it in place and get to work. The cool temperatures of June turned to sultry days of July and August. Some people perspire – I sweat – a lot!

The chainsaw worked well – but it took three months of work, interspersed with my other job – to get it done. I eventually had to invest in gun muffs when after sawing
for a couple hours my head felt like it’d been run through a heavy metal rock group. By September I was done – cut, split, stacked – ready for winter.

The second year I had some wood leftover so I ordered six cords, but I remembered the heat, and partial deafness. When a young logger stopped by during spring break-up and saw my pile standing there, “Thirty-five bucks to cut.” I said, “You’re on.” I’d split and stack.

Well, June came along – it was hot – we couldn’t park a car in the driveway – I looked at my wife one day as I dropped the monster mall on the head of a large birch log, “Life’s too short for this (expletive deleted).” From now on I’d turn up the thermostat on the oil burning “Iron Fireman” and pay the price.

Another war in the Middle East came along, my wife went off to work full time and our kid’s activities made it impossible to keep a wood stove stoked, so I caved in and bought a high tech natural gas furnace. You can’t tell it’s even working, it’s so quiet.

I still miss the wood heat. Its aesthetics and warmth can’t be replaced by a quick turn of the wrist on the thermostat. Evolution I suspect is neither good nor bad – it is. What we pay for in modern convenience we lose in giving up the rhythms of the seasons; the rip of the chainsaw, the cracking split of a frozen birch log, and the neat rows of stacked wood in the backyard.


  1. There is something to be said for actively participating in the daily chores of existing in this modern world. Heating with wood is one of the requirements. Warms at least twice. A sense of accomplishment can be had when looking upon the winter’s supply of wood knowing that one was involved in keeping the home fires burning.

    • Hope that the opportunity for you to have a house where you can enjoy the simple pleasure again, emerges soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.