Saturday, February 14, 2015

Second Warming

It has been a snowy but pretty normal winter up until today.

I'm trying to replenish our depleted stock of firewood. We've replaced the never-satisfactory and now prematurely-dead Husqvarna chainsaw with a lighter-duty Stihl that I can actually start easily, and are working on cutting up the blown-down oak and cherry and pear trees, and the many ash trees killed by emerald ash borers in the past few years.

They say that firewood warms you three times -- first when you cut it, second when you split it, and third when you burn it. We're inefficient enough about stacking that all of ours gets in a fourth warming. I still need to finish a lean-to woodshed on the north end of the run-in shed that now houses our small stock of wood; when it's done, we won't have to go through a gate to get wood, and the livestock will have more shelter in that space. I'd like to move them back there next winter once the next run of fence is finished and they can get into the sheltered buttcrack and to the never-frozen spring in bad weather.

Today, while the northwest gale blew a whiteout, I pulled my wedges and sledgehammer down to a pile of bucked ash logs that were too big to haul up to the woodshed whole, and did my splitting on the south-facing slope of the buttcrack. Pleasant weather -- I ditched my hat and scarf for the second warming.

I use a star wedge, because it is easier, and occasionally it even produces a multiple split. Ash splits willingly and cleanly, unlike the accursed Bradford pear, which seems to have no grain at all, or the unbelievably dense hawthorn, which, I effing give up. The colder it is, the more easily a log splits; whatever residual moisture is in the wood becomes ice crystals which, as I understand the physics of it, want the wood to cleave apart along the grain. The more the mercury drops, the more fervently they desire this end.

When the wedge tip is just buried upright in the ground at the very center of the split, then you hit that sumbitch perfectly.

I got the entire trunk of the ash split and stacked in a spot where we can easily load it into the tractor's cart later. The smaller rounds from the top of the tree are in a pile nearby, to be split in-place or loaded whole.

Sorry, ash. You'll never be a Louisville Slugger.

I asked Charlie to skid the tools back up the hill for me, her first time in-harness. She was dubious at first, but willing to put her back into it. I think she'll be a handy little draft doggy in time. The two wedges and single sledgehammer felt surprisingly heavy on the sled.

Mom needs to get them oxen she keeps talking about.

As we came up the hill, we could feel shit starting to get real, weather-wise.

Also, my iPhone became a whiny little bitch and started crashing within five seconds of coming out of its inside pocket. So no more photos.

It took two hours to get all the animals battened down for the Yukon weather incursion.

Hot water for everyone. Extra grain and hay for everyone. As I carried a half-bale of alfalfa to the hoofstock, wind blasts stopped me dead and tried to rip the fodder from my arms.

Stranger, the rooster who bunks with the sheep & goats in the pole barn, had been abandoned for the warm coop by his ladies and the guineas who normally roost with him, and was huddled under a milking stand. He felt really light when I picked him up. He's locked in a stall in the barn now, with hot water and grain and sunflower seeds, and he's staying there until he's fat again. I am fond of Stranger and his feral, gentlemanly ways; a rooster can only be so tough, and he's overreached himself.

Lebowski was in the upper barn -- which the wind has shot through with snow all the way to the east wall -- and had much to say, but refused to go out into the wind. I had to grab him, stuff him in my coat, and drag his kitteh butt back to the house. (Gollum had already come in the dog door.)

Still running through my mind -- did I get everyone? Did everyone get extra food and fresh hot water? Is every last critter accounted for and out of the wind?

Instead of hibernating, a farmer gets driven out into the arctic blast many times a day. Water and fuel, fuel and water for the critters.

This is why I don't lamb or kid in mid-winter.

Wind chill is now -11, and it's going to stay that way until Monday.

The woodstove is cranking; if anything should go wrong with the furnace tonight, I want that sucker already hot.


  1. I would say "stay warm and dry" but we both know that's not going to happen. How about "stay safe." Glad Stranger has a higher power to care for him.

  2. Ay caramba, that's some fearful weather. You're a good 'herd to your flocks. You and yours stay safe and warm back there!

  3. Same joy here, less the critters. A feeling of storm in the air, and there is a fallen beetle-killed ponderosa pine begging to be cut up. Like ash, it makes you feel like you are a master wood-splitter.

  4. Dear Heather,
    Such a great pleasure to curl up somewhere soft after bedding down the critters while winter rages out of doors.


  5. 20 or so yrs ago, not having any trees to cut down on my rented farmhouse in the middle of corn and soybeans, I used to buy a cord of wood every winter. You certainly learn a lot about wood when you split it! Fer instance, I learned one guy dumped some willow on me. Could be 50 below and that shit still wouldn't split - the stringiest stuff I'd ever seen. I came to know oak by it's smell. And I became a scavenger of wood the rest of the year. I miss a wood stove, tho it's hardly needed here in Flori-duh, but I'm not sure my aged joints would take to splitting wood any more.
    I certainly hope you've come through the fierce winter w/o any casualties.


I've enabled the comments for all users; if you are posting as "anonymous" you MUST sign your comment. Anonymous unsigned comments will be deleted. Trolls, spammers, and litigants will be shot.