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This week, there’s no escaping the change from summer to fall. Folks are getting ready.
Edie Wolfe’s cocker spaniel, Nearly, was the first to sense the change. He was particularly well-placed to do so from his perch at the top of the steps on his human’s back porch.
As he stretched out on his favored side, he began his morning survey in his characteristically casual fashion, moving his gaze slowly from right to left. The chipmunks, wise to the spaniel’s ways, made sure to keep their seed gathering out of his sight behind the wood pile. Otherwise, they’d have to play tag with the dog all morning, and never get anything done.
Now dogs, being built much closer to the ground than their humans and having nothing like books or meetings or exercise classes to distract them, are particularly in tune with the details of life, stuff that the rest of us never notice. Nearly was an especially attentive canine so he noticed the sun and its location vis a vis his preferred spot on the back porch.
For weeks, the sun had been his constant companion during this ritual, warming the mat where he liked to lay, and seeping down through his fur to the skin beneath. At this time of the morning, even when the weather promised to be too hot by noon, the sun was welcomed as an old friend.
But today, instead of lighting up Nearly’s space, the sun angled up the steps at a sharper degree, and the dog had to readjust his position to accommodate it. He sighed with resignation mixed with hopefulness because winter meant evenings by the wood stove sharing popcorn with his human.
Nearly loved popcorn.
Across town, Charlie Cooper was out in the garden with his partner, Agnes Findley, excavating the waist-high (and now bitter) last of the Romaine lettuces and exhausted beans from the soil. He could still smell the basil on his hands from yesterday’s marathon pesto-making session, and the thought of the pizzas to come made him smile as he wheeled over to the compost pile to make a deposit.
Agnes was grumbling, as she always did in the garden (she considered weeds one of nature’s offensive weapons like mosquitos and stinging nettle) as she tugged stray stalks of goldenrod out of her beds.
“I wish this stuff wasn’t quite so successful,” she told Charlie as she did every year. “I love its color and it doesn’t fall over like so many other tall plants. But if it goes to seed, it will take over, and I’ll never get it out of the garden.”
In the center of town at Cooper’s General Store and Emporium, Andy Cooper was checking in the morning’s produce deliveries when Lee Tennyson’s largest dump truck arrived, its tires a lot less than round because of the load of firewood he was hauling. Andy sighed, and shook his head.
“It can’t be that time again already,” he called.
“I know, I know,” Lee said as he pulled on his work gloves. “Is the bulkhead locked from the inside?”
“Nope, I felt the wind change yesterday afternoon, and figured you’d show up today so I unlocked it earlier. Just give me a minute to finish up here, and I’ll give you a hand with the slide,” he said.
The conventional philosophy about heating with wood—that it warms you twice—is not commonly accepted among folks who actually heat with wood, especially not by Andy Cooper. By his calculations, wood has at least six opportunities to warm you on its way from tree to furnace.
1. Cutting the felled trees into log lengths.
2. Splitting the lengths into firewood.
3. Stacking the logs to dry for at least a year.
4. Moving the dried logs inside so they’re accessible during the winter.
5. Stacking those same logs so they don’t take up so much space.
6. Stoking the wood stove.
When he was a younger man, Andy was involved with all six steps, helping his father and brother fell trees then cut, split, and stack the beech, oak, ash, and maple they needed to get through a Vermont winter. Even now, when asked, he refused to calculate how many cords of wood he’d handled in his lifetime because the total was staggering.
And because of that early experience, Andy has spent some time figuring out how to pare his wood-warming list down from six to one.
He took care of the first three by paying Lee Tennyson for the cords of dry, cut and split wood needed to heat the Coop for the cold months of the year.
In the spirit of eliminating number four, Andy enlisted Lee’s help in constructing an oversized slide out of three-quarter inch plywood and 2 x 6 lumber. The result is so rugged, it easily bears the weight of Lee’s wood deliveries as they hurtle from his truck into the Coop’s basement.
Eliminating number five took a while to perfect but in the end, it was a remarkably easy change that has the extra-added bonus of serving two purposes simultaneously.
After Lee brings his wood delivery to the Coop, Andy hires a team of high schoolers expressly for the purpose of neatly stacking the logs in the store’s basement. Not only is this a boon to Andy’s back, it gives him the chance to audition potential new hires because, in his words, “some kids work and some kids don’t.”
Which now leaves Andy with only number six on the list of ways wood warms you—stoking the enormous wood furnace that heats the Coop and its customers.
“Sorry that I had to raise my price per cord this year,” Lee said as Andy handed him a check.
But the older man just grinned. When wood warms you only once, it’s well worth the price.