I once mentioned that because I cut and collect all our own firewood, I recognise many of the logs when a year or more later they finally come into the house. I really do remember quite clearly where they came from and when. Some folks seemed to think that that was cool and zennish, but I thought it was just because I have a good memory for that sort of thing. Well, it's honest, hard and tiring work and leads to a feeling of achievement at the time, and right throughout the autumn and winter, and whenever I choose to smirk at our little gas bills. But a few of the logs we're burning today are slightly less than honestly acquired.
One afternoon in autumn 2013 I was driving in a lane east of High Newton, Cumbria when the road descended to a bridge. Over a drystone wall by a wooded stream I saw a good long length of ash wood. I thought it had probably been blown down onto the road a few months earlier, tidied up by a contractor, and thrown over the wall. I reckon I had no right to it at all, but there is no better wood than ash for burning, so I backed onto the verge, listened for approaching traffic and hearing none, climbed carefully over the wall. The log was very long, 6-7ins in diameter at the thick end and very heavy indeed. I found a midpoint for balance, lifted and staggered a short way across the steep slope to the wall where I only just managed to lift the log over the top to let it flump down onto the verge. I climbed back over, picked up the log again and walked very unsteadily towards the van. Hearing a vehicle coming I urged myself into a situation where I could drop the log out of sight between the van and the wall. I emerged onto the roadside empty handed and only just managed not to do a suspiciously nonchalant whistle as a Discovery went slowly by. Discoveries always seem to me to be off-comers' vehicles, not to be taken quite as seriously as locals', so I flattened the bed in the van, spread out a couple of old jackets, waited for no more traffic noise, and slid the log inside. It was so long that it ended up next to the gear lever and I could only just shut the back door.
l drove up out of the little valley and only then, but almost immediately, noticed a gated driveway on my left and evidence of much clearing and planting of shrubs. Clearly I had just taken "my" firewood from someone's woodland garden! But that log was too damned heavy to replace, so I drove on. Nonchalantly.