Columns » Front Porch

Tall tale



I'm standing in our orchard, looking at the encroaching horizon. The sun is low. The clouds are gray. And the poor blueberries have been tricked again.

These 60-degree days in January make it hard for them to stay asleep. They think it's time to wake up, to show their colorful buds. The word 'dormant' isn't in their global-warming lexicon.

It's my job to get them more sun, more hours of daylight. Densely clustered in the middle of the open woods, the blueberries face south, toward a wall of forever-stretching pine trees. Closer still are aggressive sourwoods, maples, poplars and sweetgums. They were weeds three years ago; now they're wide-ringed, each 6 inches in diameter.

January and February are our wood-gathering months. When March arrives, it's gardening season, with wood fires becoming a distant memory. For the next few months, nearly all spring, the pines will block this wooded clearing. That's their job as evergreens. But unless you want a chimney fire, you can't burn pine indoors to keep warm. Holly trees and dogwoods also get a free pass.

But the scrub trees on the southern horizon are next year's firewood.

With my favorite winter companion, a 12-year-old orange Husqvarna chain saw with a 16-inch bar, I can play out all my Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed fantasies. Most winter weekends, I'm ready; each Father's Day, I get a fresh chain. Chain sawing in the woods is like a giant game of three-dimensional jack straws. Shooing the dogs away, I notch the bark.

I try to plan where the tree will crash to the ground. But nature plays by her own rules, which solely determine the tree's downward path. Trees sometimes snap off early or twist and trap the bar and chain. They pivot and sway, changing course as they hurtle to earth.

Meanwhile, my feet are balanced, weighted just right to hold the saw. If the teeth are sharp, huge quarter-inch chunks of sawdust cascade across my jeans and boots. I love the tension of this scene.

Once the tree comes down, I figure out where the debris pile will be, where to stack the logs and how much to take home now. I imagine myself pushing the wheelbarrow from here next winter, followed always by the black dog parade.

On the way home, I'll wander over to the blueberry patch, look up at the new hole in the southern sky, and fantasize about what the extra sunlight will do to the July harvest.

Add a comment