Grudge Match 2010: Mark Vs. “The Death Birch”

By , February 13, 2010

If I sit here quietly, typing unobtrusively on this blog post, attracting as little attention as possible, perhaps . . . just perhaps . . . I can postpone going out to work on what I’ve come to consider “The Death Birch.”

Our local variety of birch (I think it’s silver, I have yet to find someone who knows) is the best firewood available to us on the property, being one of our few indigenous hardwoods. Properly dried, it burns longer than spruce or hemlock, with less sparking, and its smoke smells heavenly.

“Properly dried” is the sticking point here. Birch bark is so naturally water tight (this is the stuff they made canoes out of, remember!) that a round of birch has a hard time drying, as the inner moisture won’t readily evaporate. Thus, a standing dead birch, if left alone, could potentially rot into punky uselessness. My best strategy is to drop and buck up a dead birch as soon as I’ve found it, then split up the rounds at least into quarters, so that the curing process can begin. With luck and effort, the wood will be ready to use in about a year.

Which brings me to “The Death Birch.” High on the slope above our homestead, not too far from the scree that dropped a rock on our guest outhouse last autumn, there’s a dead birch, about a foot in diameter. I’d been keeping an eye on it as potential firewood. I have to be careful about this. On the one hand, birches seem to grow to a certain height here, then die. On the other hand, life clings to the tree despite all kinds of adversity. Several of our birches appear completely dead at the base—the bolls deeply cracked, even rotting, while green buds appear each spring! I’ve let enough seasons pass to say, with confidence, that this particular birch is truly, irrevocably dead.

I felled it in early winter, and have since alternated between pretending it doesn’t exist, and gnawing doggedly away at it, trying to cut it into decent rounds with my hand saws while maintaining proper footing on a slope that exceeds 50° in places.

The last push to get it done began as determination, but has degraded into obsession. Over the course of the last few days I’ve bucked, hauled, split, and hauled again until  near exhaustion. It’s come down to either me or the tree, and despite slow progress, I’m not yet ready to bet on me with any level of confidence.

There’s hope. I’ve managed to skid the remaining tree lengths off that slope and down to the homestead, so at least now I can stand upright without risking my neck. Beyond that, it’s anybody’s game . . . which is why I’m trying to eke out just a few more words on the blog, so I don’t have to go outside and get back to work!

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