I’m late with my Midwest post this Sunday, but I’m still getting it in before Sunday ends — and I have a good excuse.
It’s the firewood window up here in the U.P., and so I was using every daylight hour I could to put in my stock for the fall. I count the firewood window from the moment the snow is out of the woods and things have sort of dried out (sort of dried out is the best you’re going to do in my swampy part of the North Woods) and Gnat Day. Gnat Day is just that, the day the gnats arrive. They come out of nowhere and all at once. One moment you’re thinking to yourself, “This is lovely. Warm. Sunny. Dry. And no bugs! Why, it’s just like Palo Alto.” And then, without warning, all of a sudden it is not California. There are bugs everywhere. In your hair. In your nose. Buzzing around your ears. But you can pick up a nice house up here for well under $5 million. So, there’s that.
And then it gets worse. Because the gnats are just the advance team for what comes next. Mosquitoes. Fogs of mosquitoes. You do not want to be in the woods when the gnats arrive. But if you persevere and stick around until they’re replaced by mosquitoes, which are hot on their heels, well, let’s just say I won’t be among the volunteers who go in to pull you out. I mean, I like you. I really do. But really, you should have seen the signs.
Anyway, between snow out/sort of dry and Gnat Day you’ve got, at most, a couple of weeks to get in there and cut your firewood. This year it’ll probably be even less. Our lake didn’t open up until last Thursday (about dinner time, to be exact), which was May 5th, and I’m told by those who keep such records that this ties for the latest ice out ever. The snow-in-the-woods situation closely follows the ice-on-the-lake situation, which is to say it was a late start. And now, the forecast is for temps in the 80’s this week, which suggests an early Gnat Day. I’m guessing Wednesday. We could have a pool about it, if you cared enough, which I suspect you don’t.
So, I’ve been getting after it this weekend, and making fine progress, if I do say so myself. I’ve been lusting after a couple of nice maples that came down last spring in the national forest and only steps from our road. I let them sit for a year and then made short work of them yesterday. Today it was about cutting down some big, but quite dead, pines on our property. I had a chain saw hiccup I had to address, which took a bite out of my day as well.
Bottom line, I did okay. I took advantage of the time nature offered me. I’ve got a nice pile of wood ready for the splitter. But I’m not there yet. I’ve learned that there is no such thing as enough firewood. Every year I make more and every March I’m running on fumes, rationing my fires, cutting down on duration, scouring the woods for downed branches.
My favorite Upper Peninsula writer, the late great Jim Harrison, got to the essence of it in his novel True North. Harrison wrote:
If I hid in the woods it was because the woods fit my character. The U.P. was a virtual hotbed of cranky hermits to whom the public culture was unacceptable and unendurable. I had met one in my wanderings who had cut and stacked three hundred cords of wood. He was at least fifteen years ahead on the heat supply for his shack, somewhat like a nuthatch who stores up more than a dozen times its required food supply for each year. ‘I like to split wood,’ he said.
I also like to cut and split wood for the actual cutting and splitting and stacking, but also for the payoff. Come late September, when all that maple and pine has been baking all summer, I’ll light my first fire of the season and I’ll know just exactly where that wood came from. I’ll pour myself a Manhattan with walnut bitters (you gotta try the walnut bitters) and I’ll settle in with my dog, Maple, at my feet, and a good book in my lap. And, I’ll think to myself, ya know, I really should have made more firewood.
Welcome to Midwest, a regular Sunday morning feature here at YSDA, where we explore what’s good about the center. Want to read more about why it’s good to be in the middle? Pick up a copy of Light Blue: How center-left moderates can build an enduring Democratic majority.