Wood lays haphazardly stacked next to the woodstove, ready to provide service in the battle against winter’s cold. Inside the stove, the fire burns. A bed of hot coals sit beneath the logs radiating their warmth to the exterior surfaces. I have run a fire continuously since the beginning of October, when the cold settled in with night time temperatures dropping below zero degrees. Unused in the summer, the woodstove retains its place as a constant companion throughout the months ahead. The return of the woodstove not only brings warmth, but the return of chores.
Ducking outside the outer door, I walk into the entry way. The birch bark that I use to cover the wood hovers close to the ground. Time to split some more wood. Donning my orange work gloves, I grab the crosscut saw leaning against the post. It’s a short walk to the woodpile and I dust off the snow that has accumulated on the tarp. The logs sit stacked atop each other, stationary since I had placed them there back in June. I had gotten them down in Coldfoot, from the massive piles stacked near the airstrip. That was before everyone else went and got theirs too. Now the area sits empty. All the wood that used to surround the airstrip will heat homes in the area throughout the coming months.
I pull one of the logs forward, making sure that it remains snug against the others. I’ve been procrastinating building a buck horse. There isn’t much left to do, I’ve already cut the poles and have old 2x4s for the frame. But not today, that’ll be put off once more. A chore for another day. I slowly work the saw back and forth, notching a groove. Once past the bark, my motion quickens. I bring the saw’s front edge all the way through the log before pushing forward to the other side. Swish. Swish. Swish. Swish. The movement is rhythmic. Within a minute I’ve bucked the first round. I pull the log forward, set it in place and begin once more. While simple, the task remains physically taxing. My triceps strain with each movement, begging for relief.
Inside, the chainsaw sits unused. It’s fully functional; in fact I just attached a brand new chain a few months ago. In a few minutes, I could complete what takes fifteen to twenty with the crosscut saw. The speed is not without cost. There’s the noise. The blare of the loud motor that drowns out the sound of the wind moving through the trees or the birds flying above. The sound that forces you to wear ear protection to avoid permanent hearing damage or loss. There’s the injury risk. A mishap or oversight can be life threatening. The tear in my jeans tells of a near catastrophe from last fall. Finally, there’s the smell of gasoline. The smell that sticks to your clothes and masks the wafts of spruce that fill the air with each cut.
Rounds bucked, I set them on the cottonwood that serves as my chopping block. I bring the maul overhead before driving it straight through the center. The round splits in two, each falling in opposite directions. Bending down, I pick up one of the split pieces. Back on the cottonwood. I step back. The maul is brought overhead. Thwack. Two pieces ready for the woodpile. The process is repeated for the last few rounds, resulting in a small pile of split wood. Notching the maul in the cottonwood, I load up a bundle in my arms to ferry to the entryway. The pile slowly grows larger and I add a layer of birch bark over the top once more. Wood chores complete, I settle inside among the warmth of the woodstove. Over the next few days, I’ll draw from the Bank of Spruce. But soon enough, the account will near empty and I’ll head out to buck and split once more.