Monday, November 25, 2013

More Wood

It's that time when, I'm happy to say, the weather promises to stay cold for a while. That means the wood-stove gets a constant workout to keep the house warm and the heat-pump off.

In honor of that season, I found Dillon Bustin's lyrics to his song, "More Wood." It's something I'm thankful for, that song, as well as his recording, "Dillon Bustin's Almanac," a call to the land when I was a grad student in Bloomington, Indiana that I never forgot. Bustin's Web site notes that the Almanac, so long unavailable in any format, will soon be released for the first time on CD and as MP3s.

Anyone who heats with wood will understand the sentiments well. "What do you think your saw is for?"

More Wood

in the fall of the year
when you feel the winter near
and the days are clear
it surely isn't good
to sit by the fire
and want to stroke it higher
when you could be cutting more wood
from November to March the winter winds are harsh on the fields and the marsh they're covered up with snow when you trudge to the shed you have to scratch your head because the dad-blamed pile's getting low on

wood (hardwood)
firewood (dry wood)
there's not a stove in the world
that's going to do you any good
with out wood (stovewood)
we could (you should)
be out cutting more wood

when the kindling is dwindling
the bottom logs get soggy
those ricks of sticks and racks and stacks
it makes you wonder where they go
and barnfuls of armfuls
they only last a week or so
and then you'll be hurting for wood

well the sassafras it burns too fast
it starts the fire but never lasts
and swamp oak likes to smoke
you blow it till you think you'll choke
but hickory its just the tree
to remind you of the ecstasy
of having a pile of good wood I said

wood (hardwood)
firewood (dry wood)
there's not a stove in the world
that's going to do you any good
with out wood (stovewood)
we could (you should)
be out cutting more wood

well the Scandia and the Jotul brands
are made so far across the sea
the Fisher kind and Timberline
are made here in the country
with all the rest put to the test
the one I like the very best
is the one my Uncle Wade he made for me

he took an oil drum and welded some
piping from the septic tank
and fore and aft he cut a draft
and then me made a damper crank
with an old broom from the back room
he painted it fire engine red
and said now watch her consume your

wood (hardwood)
firewood (dry wood)
there's not a stove in the world
that's going to do you any good
with out wood (stovewood)
we could (you should)
be out cutting more wood

when the spring rolls around
and I spade the muddy ground
I have often found
I lay my saw away
the shed is empty and yet
you can make a bet
that I'll forget to be cutting more wood

the old-timers say
to split a little every day
and stack it away
to season well but
from March to November
I rarely do remember
December will find me in a rut

without wood (hardwood)
firewood (dry wood)
there's not a stove in the world
that's going to do you any good
without wood (stove wood)
we could (you should)
be out cutting some
throw it in the oil drum
what do you think your saw is for?
you can always use some more wood.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Campaign-Season Row Covers

Virginia's off-year elections have passed (my guys won) but I'm perfectly bipartisan about one thing: stealing as many campaign signs as possible.

I don't so much want the red-and-blue reminders of our partisan divides. They go into the recycling. I do want the metal u-shaped frames from the signs. With the resulting row-crop covers, I can extend my lettuce-picking season far into the cool months.

I'm no Eliot Coleman, who picks lettuce in a New England winter from his cold frames. I have done that here, but this season of moving we did not get the cold frame up in time.

So we'll enjoy lettuce for another few weeks this  year, cabbage and collards longer still. With the groundhogs decimated or hibernating and the raccoons scarce, it's a good harvest a few times each week.

The trick to row covers is to let the sun in on warm days and replace them before dusk. The results are not lovely, but they are tasty.

We'll enjoy some greens come Thanksgiving.  Thanks, Dems and GOP! I love my bipartisan row-covers!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

e.e. cummings and the Log Splitter

At the memorial service for my dear departed friend Steve Gott, I sported a lovely and livid scar just over my left eye. It was so recently acquired that I had to be late for the service to stop the bleeding. It added some levity to explain why I was late. In short: I fought the log, and the log won.

Anything with 27 TONS of downward force deserves respect. Lots, in fact. Not all logs look as docile as the one in my picture.

I recall looking at the log-pile and thinking "these are nice straight ones. I don't need my goggles."

Force of habit made me don them. Just as I was finishing up (when such things tend to happen) a twisted bit of wood caught my eye, literally and figuratively.

I looked it over, fine-grained. It evoked driftwood, not a trip to the emergency room, so I popped it under the splitting maul.

Being hard-headed, again literally and figuratively, I kept the pressure going on the wood as the splitter began to squeal.

Oops. the wood split with an enormous pop, as an errant bit sailed toward my left eye like a planet-destroyer out of the original Star Trek series. Joe played the role of Commodore Decker...

My goggles saved my eye, and the wood skidded up my forehead. Now I'm going to be wearing the forestry helmet too.

Moral of the story? I'll leave that to e.e. cummings:

OSHA told him; he couldn't
believe it
(his sister told him; he
wouldn't believe it)
the Stihl chainsaw company certainly told
him, and his
(yes mam)
and even
(believe it or not) you
told him: i told
him; we told him
(he didn't believe it, no sir)
it took
a corkscrewed bit of
the old fallen oak
tree; in the top of his head to tell

(to wear his damned forestry helmet)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Your Ride's Here: Farewell, Steve Gott

It's the sort of light that breaks your heart, a painter's light. It makes the remaining leaves gold and crimson, but those words are poor substitutes for the colors I mean. You can taste the color, just like the crisp air. The light goes fast at this time of year, so it's best to savor every second.

What a time to leave our world, but my good friend Steve Gott did, tragically, in a motorcycle accident. As we all know, we have no motorist to blame, some dunce who was texting while driving. Steve simply did not respond in time to road conditions. Faced with this twist of fate, I have to say something appropriate at his memorial service. I have tried and tried, as I work out watering a little stand of trees planted in his honor at our rural home.

All I can think of is "Steve, you picked the worst time possible to leave this beautiful world."

I begin writing this at my blog, about my life learning to live in the country as I prepare my retirement as a homesteader, organic farmer, and beekeeper. It's appropriate to write this in such a public venue for two reasons. First, I want it to reach those won't be able to attend the memorial service. Facebook is no place for lengthy reflections, though it has sprouted a touching virtual shrine at Steve's profile page. Second, by drafting these remarks online, others who never met Steve will have a sense of his personality and dedication to live life as he pleased.

Steve was a talented zookeeper, a man who spent a good deal of his professional life protecting creatures that have no voice when humans hunt them or destroy their habitats. I am not as nice a person as Steve. I can think of many who should be gone, instead of Steve. All too often, while the evil, venal, and simply greedy live on, we lose our best.

We may ask “why?” again and again. I don’t think there is a why here, and there rarely is when the good and beloved among us suffer or leave us in the prime of life. I can only quote a minister I know, who spoke at the memorial service for a young man at my university, a boy who died at not even half Steve’s age. At the service, the minister reminded us that “God’s heart was the first to break.”

I know that Steve would call me superstitious if I claimed that our universe contains a creative and loving spirit that suffers when we suffer. Call that God if you wish. That’s what I call it. I think God’s heart broke when Steve left a world he loved so much that he dedicated his time and intellect to becoming a naturalist.

Steve's death leaves a huge hole in our lives and I have no idea how we’ll fill it. Steve would, however, be the first to say “move on.” As I will explain, he did during his years with us. Yet I cannot imagine the suffering of his family and Lisa. Any words I write will be poor medicine for them, but I do think I can celebrate who Steve was and how he remains in my heart.

There’s the first Warren Zevon reference of mine, an oblique one to “Keep Me in Your Heart for a While,” one of the last songs Zevon wrote as he bravely faced the last stages of cancer. Zevon was one of Steve's favorite composers, and he inspired Steve and me in many dark and many humorous moments. The singer-songwriter famously reminded his friend David Letterman to “enjoy every sandwich.” Steve often said that to me. I repeated it a lot in the last week.

But now those of us who loved Steve are, as Zevon wrote “in the house when the house burned down.”

The house burned down. And here we are. How to rebuild it?

Take a cue from how others thought about Steve. Even those who had only met him a few times when he returned to Richmond recall him well. One friend e-mailed me her vivid if brief impression of Steve as “kind, quirky, funny, and ageless.”

Ageless. That’s a hard word to use for someone with whom I wanted to share a crusty and irascible old age. Now I’ll always remember Steve as he was when I last saw him, in the parking lot of MacLean’s on Broad Street, arranging his long hair and pulling on his motorcycle helmet. Yes, just like that. A geeky kid like me who, as an adult, turned into Billy Badass. Now those are words I bet you never get to hear at memorials. Deal with it.

Here's a moment I want to share. When Steve came to campus one day, stepping off his bike in black leathers, then shaking out his long hair, I saw a bunch of co-eds about to swoon. Later, a student of mine, smitten after seeing Steve, asked who that man was who came to lunch with me. “Just my buddy Steve,” I said, basking a little in his aura. On other occasion, for a week I had to wear an eye-patch following some minor procedure. Steve said "trying to be like me, eh?"

I have to say that I am more delighted than jealous at Steve's transformation. Learning to live well was not merely for Steve the best revenge. It was simply living as he wanted to live, not as others would ordain it. My dad once said "that boy has some hair." What he meant was that Steve might not get a good job with all that long hair. Guess what, dad? He did get a great job, and his employer and co-workers will also keep him in their hearts for a long while.

Memorial-service reflections are supposed to include a lot of humor; they are for the living. Dad had a shiny head like mine. We bald dudes think about Steve’s ponytail and can only say, as Zevon once did about a Werewolf, “his hair was perfect.”

So was Steve's heart.

As I have listened to Steve's favorite music for the past week, lyrics to one song keep coming back to me. It is Zevon's "My Ride's Here" and the theme is pretty clear:

I said, "Man, I'd like to stay
But I'm bound for glory
I'm on my way
My ride's here..."

Damn it, Steve, you rode off far to soon. But somewhere down that lonesome and endless road, I’m looking forward to my next sandwich with you.