Maynard van der Galien
After retiring from keeping livestock five years ago, I needed something to do that would make the long winters go by quicker. I wanted to do something productive and get good exercise while doing it.
I don’t do winter sports. Snowshoeing or cross country skiing isn’t my thing. I don’t snowmobile. Racing across the trails on a winter day doesn’t appeal to me.
So, I seriously took up cutting firewood. I had always cut down big elm trees on the farm to heat the house when milking cows but just for our needs.
Bush work has become my winter project. At age 74, I still cut down tall trees and make firewood. Lots of it that I sell to clients.
After the fieldwork is done and the ground is frozen, I go to the bush. Deep snow like we had in February doesn’t stop me from going, but cold weather does.
Since I was a boy I loved working in the bush with my father cutting pulpwood, logs or firewood. We had a good bush lot at our small farm in Eganville. We’d go after the morning chores were done. If we couldn’t go there with the tractor we’d pull a toboggan with the chainsaw on it. We’d have a fire going and eat our lunch by the fire. Father would go home around 3:30 p.m. to feed the cows and I’d stay and clean up and then go home for supper and help with the milking.
I loved being in the bush. When it was a wet fall and the swamps flooded it was ideal to go in on the ice and cut out the cedar trees and skid them out. We’d have hundreds of cedar posts to sell.
When I worked in construction and was laid off in the winter, I was in the bush. I recall cutting down a big tree for firewood in the centre of the bush. It was hollow and had many feet of comb honey. The honey was packed onto the toboggan and taken home. A real treat for us! I still find it hard to believe that honey bees flew that far into the bush and found a hollow tree there to store the honey. Could they not find one closer to the source of the honey they were making?
Fifteen years ago our 30-year-old wood furnace was replaced with an efficient oil furnace. I thought it smart to take life a little easier as I was approaching senior status and would not be chopping firewood. But there were two big things missing: wood heat and bush work making firewood. And when the power was off there was no heat in the house. That was a concern.
When the fire insurance agent was over to renew the insurance policy that spring, I told him I was thinking of putting a wood stove in the basement. He suggested I put it in the corner by the kitchen dining room and it would heat the entire upstairs. “You have to have it done professionally,” he warned.
So I had a neat, efficient wood stove with a glass door installed in the corner where he suggested. During the winter months it’s going 24 hours a day.
The radiant heat from a wood stove is like the rays of the sun. It warms you through and through. Come in from the cold and sit near the fire is one of life’s small pleasures.
Making firewood is an excellent way to improve your health. You are outdoors. And if you split blocks of wood with an axe your body uses multiple muscles to perform the swing. It engages virtually the entire core, including lower and upper back, shoulders, arms, abs, chest, legs and butt.
When you swing an axe you use all of your abdominal muscles by extending down at an angle from the ribs to the hip bone, using your stomach muscles all the way.
Health experts say another great benefit is that an average person can expect to burn between 350 and 500 calories when chopping wood for an hour.
I use an axe when making kindling wood and limbing small branches.
Spring and summer I cut and split the logs and pieces of trees I’ve hauled home that are sitting in the yard. They make a few thousand blocks when they’re cut up.
Don’t call me for dry firewood. The hardwood was sold out by Christmas.
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer and a long-time columnist with Farmers Forum.