This morning the temperature was 24-degrees in the lower meadow. Up the mountain, where ski resorts welcome weekenders from the cities, 24-degrees might be common, but down here in the foothills it is definitely not.
It’s way too cold for my liking. It was temperatures like this that made me leave Michigan for California so many years ago.
Still, the chill added beauty to our world. The green grass, nurtured by recent winter rains, glittered like diamond confetti in the early morning sun. Nearby grape vines looked like sparkling glass lace draped along the wires.
And the deer, with their thick winter coats, crunched loudly as they walked through the fields of frozen grass.
Time to restock the porch firewood rack.
Stocking the woodpile and the wood rack, along with all the other physical work around here, has been the purview of Sweetheart Al since we moved here seven years ago.
But since his serious fall in November, I’ve taken over woodpile duty – filling our two-wheel cart at the woodshed, then hauling the cart about 50 feet to the house and pulling it up the porch steps, then unloading the cart by restacking the wood onto the porch firewood rack.
From there, piece by piece, the split oak is carried into the house, as the wood stove needs feeding.
The metal cart, called a Wood Chuck, is made in Vermont. It’s able to carry a lot more wood than I have the strength to haul. I stack about the equivalent of three armloads on it, and struggle to get it from the woodshed to the house. It’s hard work. It’s also dirty work.
Our woodshed holds about four cords. We haven’t used much over the last couple of winters. We generally build a wood stove fire on the weekend, or if we’re having guests for the afternoon or evening, or if the electricity goes out (effectively turning off our furnace).
But this year, with Al’s injury, we’ve been burning only wood since November.
I quickly discovered that the woodshed is not an inanimate place with dead wood stacked only for my convenience. The shed and its woodpile are full of life. Other critters have made it their home. Or their bathroom. Or their dining room.
As I pull logs and pieces of logs off the pile, leafy nests built between the logs fall apart, revealing feathers and fur (the remains of sleeping places or, perhaps, meals). Did they gather like we would for a Thanksgiving feast, all the family eating and socializing together? Or did some animal eat in rushed and frightened solitude?
There are caches of acorns, stashed by energetic gray squirrels. I feel guilty destroying these carefully accumulated winter supplies. No wonder the gray squirrels always complain at me from the nearby oaks.
I assume that snakes live in our woodpile in the summer, but in the winter it provides shelter for other animals. What they are is anyone’s guess. Probably wood rats. Maybe chipmunks, mice, raccoons or skunks.
Whatever they are or were they left lots of bathroom scat behind. I have to shake each log before I stack it in the cart, so that the clumps and piles of little scat-pellets fall off. I shake each one again before re-stacking it in the porch rack. And one last time, before I take it inside to feed the flames.
While the fire crackles, filling our home with the healing sound and warmth of wood heat, I wash my hands and wonder where the little critters will go when I’ve burned all the wood that they’re using for shelter.
No one ever said country living was easy living, but it does connect one with many of the other life forms sharing our planet, reminding us we are not alone and therefore should not act from arrogant self-importance.
And when winter storms pour sudden rivers down our hillsides, and winter winds moan right outside our door, there’s nothing like a merry fire on the hearth to make you feel safe and snug and happy.
So who’s complaining about woodpile duty? Not me.