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Thursday, 18 October 2012


Cut a stick.

They say there are three heats in firewood;  the gathering, the cutting it and burning it and I should know for I regularly do all three in a day.  I consider it one of the perks of the trade; I cut trees, have a stove and an open fire, so naturally I take home my share of firewood whenever the opportunity arises.  My Papa’s motto (or one of his many mottoes)  was, “Cut a stick when you see it.”  This could be taken as metaphor for seizing an opportunity when it presented itself (sage advice) or literally, grab a lump of wood to take home whenever you find it; it’ll never go to waste.

When my Papa was alive, and I spent the summers in his wise fisherman’s company in his punt - a small, wooden sea-going boat with an outboard motor where I come from was always called a punt, and not to be confused with boater wearing students with big poles and the shallow bottomed boats of the River Cam.  We fished lobsters and while out, if we saw a good stick high and dry, we’d go ashore to get it, often scrambling and skiting over seaweed and rock in wellies only to find the ‘stick’ looked much smaller from the sea and was in fact, an entire tree trunk.  When that was the case, if we couldn't get it in the boat or tow it to the harbour, we’d be back the next day armed with bow saw, cross cut, splitting wedges, hammers and an axe.  We were never beaten and my Papa’s lum always reeked. (If you don’t know what those words mean, look them up.  You’ll learn two good Scottishisms here.)

Up until a few years ago, I was usually the only person on the job who took firewood home but when the price of fuel went up (or rather the price of everything went up) I find myself in constant competition for every log, and like to always have a good stockpile, just in case.

These days I've dispensed with the cross cut and bow saw in favour of the chainsaw;  it may not have the romance, but easily makes up for it in efficiency and without it I’d never get through all the wood I need to keep the home fires burning, although when I'm sharpening my saw, I feel a connection to my Papa when I remember him meticulously sharpening each tooth of his cross cut and bow saw.  My Papa would approve of the chainsaw and I'm sure would be impressed at the volume of logs it could produce in a sunny afternoon by my woodpile.  I still use the  axe though.  I know you can get mechanical log-splitters but there is just something so satisfying about a lump a ash or oak bursting in two when a good sharp axe is driven home.

Recently we were felling some trees around an electricity substation; you know the ones, with the danger of death signs and high metal palisade fencing. The kind of substation that you were warned about in school not to go in to retrieve your Frisbee from.  It was an urban area and no sooner had we fired up the saws and chipper  when every man with a white van was turning up to enquire about what was happening to the timber.  They didn't much care for the idea that it may belong to someone; they saw a stick and they were going to cut it; how could I really object?  It was all we could do to keep these wood-hungry men off the site while the stems were being felled; given the chance, I'm sure they’d be catching them before they hit the ground and straight into the back of rusting transits with rear suspension leaf springs buckling under the weight.

We actually found the whole spectacle entertaining, and I wasn't worried about getting my share.  I made sure it was already in the back of the Hilux and safe from these ravenous timber-gannets.  I have a rocking chair by an open fire I like to keep blazing.  It’s the perfect spot to put up the feet after a day‘s work, pour a dram and even propose a wee toast; “Lang may yer lum reek.”

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About Me

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up in the hills, Co Durham
tree climber, painter, stilt walker, musician. After 20 years of city life and all the late nights and fun, returned to my country-boy roots. Open fires, tranquility and muddy boots.