Autumn in New England

Autumn in New England is a beautiful time. The colors of the leaves, the brisk days, and the preparations for winter.

Sunday, I finished stacking all the wood except for some twisted cherry knots and cleaned up the four buckets of “mulch” that always comes with the wood. Typically, this would not be a reason to lament all the work to come, but the woods behind the house have cultivated a fine crop of leaves this year.
While I’ve been busy stacking, they’ve been littering. So now begins the long slog through the deep drifts of maple, ash, oak, and other leaves. It’s time to knuckle down, get serious, and get those rakes working. I know that if I haven’t cleared the back by the woods before the end of this month, I’ll lose the battle. It’ll all be there for winter, wet and soggy, matted down, and resistant to raking. Then when the first storm of December comes along, it’ll be too late, and I’ll shovel through the snow and then the mulched layer of leaves.

Autumn in New England. The season that keeps on giving.


This morning my wife and I took a trip to a substantially better-healed town than where we live. Frankly, the housing costs are so far above our means that while we like to visit the shops, we’d never imagine living there. But the garden center is top-notch.

After browsing and looking at things we didn’t need but desired, we made our way to checkout and made our purchases. Then just outside the door, I saw it. a sign stating that a third of a chord of kiln-dried firewood ( debarked) was available for $349.99
I pay $300 for a full cord of good quality mixed hardwoods – mostly oak, ash, cherry, hickory, and just a bit of birch. The third of a cord they had sitting there looked to be mixed poplar, birch, a bit of maple, and some oak. The quality did not typify quality heating wood. In British Thermal Units, a lousy deal. If you are heating a house, you will pay a fortune.

If you are entertaining, don’t want bark on your floor, and it’s a “recreational thing” you do when company is over, I guess it works out. You can have your little fire and not have the mess on the floor.

I’ve spent lots of time with a chainsaw, ax, maul, and wedges in my hands. Most wood burners take their wood, as some people take their religion or scotch; seriously. My dairy farmer friend Melvin would have had a good laugh off of this. My friends along the coast would have shook their heads in amazement at what some people spend money on, and when I tell my wood supplier about it, he’ll just grin and tell me that we are in the wrong business.

I almost turned and went in to ask them if they did a good buisness on their kiln-dried, debarked, overpriced junk wood. But my wife was with me, and I didn’t want to embarrass her. She could dress me up but can’t take me anywhere.

Maybe I’ve been in New England too long and should go back to New York City?


At the beginning of winter, I take a long look at the wood ranks waiting to heat the house. The oil-burning furnace gets used about one hour every day, and then only until the wood fire is brought back up in the morning. Come February, I’ll gaze out over the snow-covered streets in my neighborhood and pity my neighbors getting their second oil delivery of the month. Meeting in the street my fellow wood burners and I can enjoy a brief moment of comradely fellowship due to our wise choice of fuel.
Normally you wouldn’t suspect that there’d be avarice driving deep splitting wedges among wood burners, but there is. My wood is better than your wood. My wood seller is more reliable than yours. Even I have more wood than you do.
These last two years, it’s been especially bad for my woodburning friends. My long rows are of ash, cherry, red oak, and hickory. Theirs are of birch poplar and maple. Their claims that the wood in their rows is as good as that in mine ring hollow.
There have been attempts to pirate my supplier, but he claims he can’t supply more than he already does.

On New Year’s Eve, we’ll invite these friends over for a party. I’ll coyly watch their expressions as I feed the stove with hunks of cherry, a bit of hickory, and a slab of ash.
Then in the glow of the fire, I’ll wish them health, wealth, and better wood in the coming new year.


Burning Bright

In just a few days, we’ve gone from long warm autumn to a seasonal chill. The wood stove is lit, and I’ve filled it with snags of cherry – the knotty bits and pieces that are the butt end of our cherry firewood. Cherry is not our usual fuel. However, this year almost a cord and half of it were delivered. We usually receive oak, maple, and ash. Cherry heats well, and I get to pick through for spoon and bowl wood.
Those knotty snags have lots of BTUs to release and warm the house quickly. On occasion, I find a hunk too good for the stove and put it aside for a carved bowl. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen all that often because cherry is an eccentric wood to dry. It seems to have a lot of tension built in it, so a gorgeous plank can turn into fragments if not carefully handled. This is why much lovely cherry planking is not air-dried but dried in a kiln where conditions are controlled.

The other evening I glanced into the stove and observed several half-burned snags displaying this growth ring pattern that sprung open as the wood burned. Cherry is my favorite wood for spoons, bowls, boat portraits, and many small carvings. It has a delicacy of pattern in grain and a wide variation in color that I particularly admire. But for the first time, I noticed that it still displayed some patterning as it burned.


Spoons boiling in a pot of water? Yes, this is tempering. The spoons and spatulas shown here are this year’s batch of Christmas and holiday presents for friends needing a new piece of treen – an old word for woodenware. The rough carving,  shaping, and sanding have been done; the bowls carved first of course. Now comes the tempering to raise the grain so a final sanding and rubbing can finish the treen. The last step will be rubbing with a paste made from beeswax and mineral oil. The wood is from the cherry that my firewood provider told me was in the seven chords I bought this year. He casually informed me that: “…there’s a bit of cherry in there”. A bit turned out to be about twenty percent of a chord. Of course I couldn’t burn it. So, I have cherry blanks for spoons, bowls, spatulas, wooden forks, and other assorted treen for a number of years. I may even have to sell some.

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