For months I’ve been dreaming of the perfect “last tree,” which would provide us with the last firewood to be harvested before winter.
This tree would need to be fairly large, to top off the growing pile of winter firewood in the wood shed. It would also need to be dry—possibly the driest firewood I would find this year. Last added to the pile becomes first burned; it needs to be as dry, if not drier, than all the other wood, some of which sat in the wind and sun most of the summer.
Last Wednesday, I found that perfect last tree. How? A little bird told me.
I had gathered my saw and limbing ax, shouldered my backboard, and hiked up the trail, headed for the blow down. Trees had fallen at that far end of our property years ago, creating an impressive, though tangled pile of dead wood. I’ve been whittling away at it all year, but it’s a long way to pack home load after load of wood. I left it until I had exhausted most of the nearer downed trees on the property.
Our trail climbs steeply up the hill from the cabin, then swings south to parallel the ridge. Right at that corner, I heard the quiet tapping of a woodpecker searching for food.
We have several varieties of woodpeckers and sapsuckers around here, particularly the three toed woodpecker (see “Murder” In the Forest). At this time of year, after the raucous hammering of their mating season, they feed quietly, sometimes companionably near those who wander through the forest.
I noticed that its pecking at the tree it searched at that moment had a good solid ring to it, suggesting solid and dry wood. I scanned the trees above me until I found the woodpecker, working away at an 8- to 10-inch round spruce just downhill of the trail. A few taps with my limbing ax sounded good, so when the woodpecker left, I felled the tree.
It proved to be exactly what I was looking for. It had died some time ago, but had apparently not been killed by fungus or other wood damaging rot. Except for the very top 5 or 6 feet of the 50+ foot tall tree, it was perfectly sound, and dry as can be. I quickly sawed it up into 2- to 4-round sections, which were so dry and light I carried them to the cliff edge and tossed them, like small cabers, into the cabin yard below.
The next day, I shifted the wood from the drying rack on the Power Point to the wood shed pile. Then I bucked the new tree into stove rounds, chopped them, and added them to the pile. When I’d finished, the winter’s wood crammed the shed as tightly as possible, leaving just enough air space for the battery box’s snorkel vent.
When I’d finished, I went inside to make a fire. I wasn’t cold, but I needed it to dry things out. Rain had begun during my wood work. We would receive 2 inches in the next 24 hours!