Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Lighting the Wood Stove

Setting the fire in the wood stove I position one split log of oak across the back of the grate, and one along each side. Until late last autumn these logs were a branch blown down a few hundred yards away from here in a public park in Lancaster. From that park I brought home three burstingly heavy bike trailer loads. I'm assuming the branch must have been weakened for a while before it fell, because my new meter shows the moisture is already below 25%. The logs don't hiss or bubble, and our chimney sweep tells me 25% is fine (although the meter makers recommends 18%, or less). Into the space between these three logs I place torn and scrunched up junk mail, then reach into a small wire basket which hangs above the stove. It contains dried and drying orange (or other citrus) peel which makes a surprisingly fierce, oily firelighter (and is generally considered too acidic for good garden compost). The grandsons help us with peel collection and always have a bag ready when I visit. On top of the peel goes a handful of dry birch twigs collected recently on a short walk around Baines Crag (a former quarry for millstones, five miles away on the fells), and on top of those go several snapped hazel sticks which after a few years in my hurdle fence had become brittle beyond repair. The hazel stems once grew twelve miles north of here in a neglected coppice near Yealand Storrs. On top of the hazel go a few slightly larger pieces of long-dried willow driftwood collected with the bike trailer from the banks of the Lune two miles from home. As the fire gets established I feed it with three years old chunky wedges of sycamore from a friend's garden across the city, alternating with more oak from the park. Adjusting air input as necessary, I occasionally check the gauge on the stove pipe as it quickly pushes up into clean burning temperatures, then it's time to sit back, stare at the flames for a while, and watch the new heat-powered electric fan as it pushes generous warmth all around the sitting room, into the kitchen, and up the stairs.

Monday, 2 January 2017

The Wood Store

On Friday the cloud was low enough to hide Farleton Fell as I drove through the Yealands then as far as I could get down the track without making a muddy fool of myself. I parked the van and in heavy drizzle walked along the edge of a wood where oak takes forever to grow, birch lean uprooted like long silver skittles, and ash, hazel and hawthorn consistently fail to thrive in the greasy, black, bog bottom soil. A drift of breeze was bringing a steady shish of traffic from the A6 three fields ahead of me. A firm believer in Sod’s Law, I refused to look for any deer - if you look, you won’t see them, but if you don’t, you might. A minute later I’d forgotten about them, which surely explains why then I noticed those grey shapes moving to and fro below a steeply leaning holly tree, the only evergreen in sight. I walked on until I could make out the spotted coats of three, four, four, counting, counting four, five indecisive fallow deer tottering to and fro like high-heeled girls on a pub crawl. I walked. They stopped. They stared. I walked again. They stared, broke away, trotted, stopped and stared again. As well they might. I was pushing a stripped down, steel-framed three-wheeler pushchair – exchanged several years ago through our local swap shop for a bottle of (vegan, organic, French rosé), wine - and I must’ve looked more like a bag lady than any rambler, pheasant feeder, or hunter within the deer’s experience. (I worry a little that these deer aren’t as scared as they should be).
Beneath their holly tree the ground was as dry as any deer could want it. Further on I glimpsed the first of several stacks of firewood I’d made fourteen months ago when clearing back from a long neglected ditch. To keep my crop off the ground and in the breeze I pile it between forked trunks of birch, but this is a tolgy wood, particularly here on the leeward side, and seasoning can too easily become rotting unless I can get my hard won lengths back home to our wind-tunnel woodshed. A roughly five feet length will make me six logs the larger of which will burn better for having been split to a rough 3” x 2” size. I’ve found that in locations nearer to public roads any cut lengths of wood tends to “walk”. I don’t enjoy wasted effort, so logging and splitting is done at home. I carefully loaded the pushchair. I keep it close to its backward tipping point so that I can lift the front wheel and swerve it around mud holes, tussocks, rocks and stumps (generally only after I’ve hit them). With three screamingly tight stretch hooks I secured what is inevitably a top heavy load and shoved off. As I joined back onto the track there was another fallow deer, so indignant to see me that it tossed its head and stamped a forefoot before making an abrupt turn and disappearing as only deer can. I’d thought to bring home three loads that day, but soon two seemed enough. Now the wood’s in our shed and drying well. Perhaps in 2012 I’ll finally get around to bringing home enough to get us through the whole winter without these extra trips. But I doubt it. By the way, should anyone be wondering where to find the rest of my woody stash, it is (sire), “a good league hence Underneath the mountain Right against the forest fence By Saint Agnes' fountain.”