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The art of getting firewood

Cutting down trees is definitely not a major talent of mine. Not even a very minor one, I’m afraid.

Cutting down trees is definitely not a major talent of mine. Not even a very minor one, I’m afraid. And yet I find something strangely satisfying in the act: the ability to look after my heating needs in such a simple, self-sufficient way and, if I wish, to obtain the building materials for a house. Try saying that about heating oil or plywood.

Maybe that’s why I harbour such warm feelings for chainsaws — for working ones, that is. Our saw collection at this point consists of my very first one (dead), Sam’s first one (so underpowered that it cuts like a handsaw), a big saw for lumber making (still working surprisingly well but too heavy for toting around), and a new one, the twin of the deceased model.

Although it has only seen very moderate use so far, the new saw is already ominously temperamental — well, as one would expect any young, good-looking model to be, I suppose. Disturbing its slumber for a little bit of work requires a mixture of coaxing and threats, and it is only willing to face low temperatures after luxuriating for hours by the warm stove. I have the nagging suspicion that it really is a hedge trimmer, disguised as a chainsaw by a clever sales clerk.

But so far, it is still the preferred one for firewood cutting among the four saws, and after much reluctant shuddering, it finally gave in and sputtered to life yesterday. Much of the winter’s firewood supply is still in its original location: a sprinkling of dead, standing and blown-down trees throughout the forest.

My preferred method of keeping myself in good wood supply throughout the winter is not particularly efficient, but I much prefer it to doing a few days of concentrated work with the snow mobile and then be done with it. At least that’s how I always feel in early winter — by March, I’m usually ready to give in to Sam’s urging to get firewood like normal people. But until then, I make my rounds every few days with a plastic toboggan, the saw, and cut a little bit at a time.

One toboggan load heats the cabin for about one to three days, depending on the temperatures. It is a more peaceful, quiet way of hauling wood than with the snowmachine, and the added chore gives a bit more structure to my otherwise fairly amorphous winter days.

In theory, I am perfectly versed in how to cut down a tree so it will land where you want it to. In practice, I have an uncanny success rate of making a tree fall into the waiting arms of its neighbour, where it tends to rest with a most comfortable expression on its crown. Even if surrounded by empty space, I swear it will still make a valiant attempt to hurl itself into the outstretched branches of its closest friend.

This is partly the result of my aversion to use wedges in falling trees; I don’t like having to fiddle around with them and just want to be done quickly. Which I’m not, of course. Also I must be severely cross-eyed because I never cease to place my falling cuts crooked, at an angle, no matter how hard I try not to. These are the reasons why I have developed a great fondness for trees with a pronounced lean or lots of branches sticking out to one side.

So here it is again, firewood season, and with it my annual vow to use wedges and somehow cut straight. Trailing my toboggan and stomping along in chainsaw pants, ear protection and safety goggles, I had a look around and then cheated. I decided that the heating fuel of choice were a couple of downed trees, dead and nicely propped off the ground, that required neither wedges nor squinting at the angle of my hinge cut. I sliced off a couple of toboggan loads and, within no time it seemed, was back at the cabin with my booty.

Today, the heat collected by those trees over many summers is released in the stove and fills my cabin with the promise of the returning sun.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.