While fearfully working through her limited firewood this winter, it occurred to Ada that in the north woods, people are judged not by their conspicuous consumption, but by their conspicuous combustibles. In this edition of Of Woods and Words, Ada looks at the ordinary firewood pile not as another exercise in drudgery, but as a symbol of status.
We started worrying about our woodpile long before winter came. It was the first winter the cabin has been used all season and no one was quite sure how the little house would hold its heat. To make sure the winter wouldn’t end with us breaking down furniture and shoving table legs and the backs of chairs into the woodstove’s inferno, in September we bought a swanky new woodstove that promised to burn more efficiently and effectively. But despite the new, gleaming black woodstove perched in the middle of the cabin’s living room, in late October we headed out back to look at the three cords of birch we’d carefully stacked in the summer, and panicked. We ordered another two cords of mixed firewood.
It was a very long winter indeed at the cabin. But despite what seemed like endless trips out to the woodpile and many a 30-below night, the new stove lived up to its hype and we used just a fraction of the wood we feared we might go through. Last month we rearranged the woodpile, which had grown somewhat sprawling and scattered, and were pleased to discover we probably had enough wood to get us through another chilly North Woods winter.
But that doesn’t mean we get this summer off from woodpile work and worry. All winter, we estimated how much wood we were burning, attempting to predict how many cords we’d go through before the winter was through. When February rolled around, Andy started worrying about where we were getting our next load of firewood from. This next batch of firewood will have over a year to dry and “season” before it gets burned during winter 2012-2013.
The other day, our neighbor complimented us how tidy our woodpile was looking. And that’s when I realized our woodpiles are much more than just stacks of renewable energy in our backyards. They’re status symbols which project our personalities.
The big spenders shell out the big bucks for pre-split and dry. The practical buy cord wood which they cut and split themselves. The frugal harvest their own firewood.
Forget shiny cars in the driveway. Around here we judge you not by your conspicuous consumption but by your conspicuous combustibles. You could park a shiny new red sports car in the driveway and the neighbors would just roll their eyes. Throw up a couple cords of split, dry firewood and the neighbors will flock over to inspect your latest acquisition. “Oh my gosh, is that ash?” they’ll whisper, a hint of reverence in their voices as they reach out to gently touch the end of a log.
After all, using cars as status symbols or conversation starters just isn’t very interesting when every other person has some type of Subaru parked in their driveway. But where you get your wood from, how long you should dry your wood before burning it, what’s considered a good price for a cord, or how much wood you go through in a winter are always bound to spark lively banter.
In a land where wafts of wood smoke can be found in the air 12 months a year, it’s no wonder we spend so much time consumed with what our fires will be consuming.
Our woodpiles are security blankets that guarantee the cold won’t seep in, but most of all, these woodpiles are status symbols that tell the rest of the world we’ve got our act together.
For WTIP this is Ada Igoe with “Of Woods and Words.”
I was so lost, so bereft, I doubted my vocation. I wasn’t worried about becoming a priest, I was worried about dressing myself.