As I stoked the fire last night, following an afternoon of traipsing across Sullivan County with an intrepid couple up from the city, snow-be-damned, I recalled a blog posting from my early days as a full-timer up here in Claryville, which still holds true.
I’m a sucker for snow, especially around the holidays. So with snow covering the skylights of my usually very bright house, it’s really quite cozy, with a nice fire burning to complete the scene. And the fact that for the last two days I’ve been chopping wood, I’m quite pleased with myself.
In this part of rural Upstate New York, wood is a valuable commodity to many. Not just financially (I paid $155 a cord from the Frost Valley YMCA, which is about average, and bought 2 cords - ed. note: 2007), but as a way of life. End of summer/early fall conversation often includes earnest discussion: reliable sources, the going rate, the quality of the seasoning. Then follows talk of stacking. I recall someone’s wife earning high praise for her stacking ability. These are skills people value. Wood is right up there with food and water. After all, what is a house without “warm and dry”.
It is not at all uncommon for people up here to use wood as a primary - if not exclusive - fuel for heating their homes. In the fall you’ll drive by properties where the house is barely visible for the bunkers of enormous piles of stacked logs recently delivered. So when spring comes, and the house is fully visible once again, you know it’s time for everyone to emerge from hibernation.
I must confess, I wake up each morning and turn up that thermostat. I don’t go tropical, like my mother does in Westchester, but having lived in Ireland for eight years, I’ll never go back to that drafty, damp existence where my feet just never warmed up.
And I light fires. It’s half for the heat and half for the ambience. But to have a fire, I need wood, and a lot of the logs are quite fat and need splitting: enter my newfound pastime. Just a year or so ago I’d be sitting in weekly sales meeting at Credit Suisse when our manager would often impart motivation, saying “We’ve got lots of wood to chop.” And I often hear that and smile to myself as I wield an old axe I found in the basement when I bought the house. (Ironically, having sold mortgage-backed bonds, the axe has been falling, and will likely continue to fall, back in my old department, given the current credit crisis.)
My new favorite tool, however, is the “maul”. I think that’s how you spell it. The back of the blade is thicker and it’s heavier than an axe, but damn that thing splits wood well! It’s like when your golf club strikes the ball in the sweet spot, and you hear the perfect sound. The swing and SPLIT, the log falls in two. Throw that into the fire on a wintry day and you feel like you can get along in the world no matter what may come your way.