the View from Faraway Farm: Personal playground keeps me fit and warm

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Every couple of days I go out to my "personal playground," which is my backyard where I felled a good-sized Ash tree a while back. I've been slowly cutting it up and burning it in my wood stoves as I go. Rather than assemble my new electric wood splitter and try to haul it out there before the snow and mud are all gone, I've selectively cut wood with a smaller diameter so no splitting is required to burn. I just haul it into the house, stack it and feed it into a stove. Most of the branches that fit that criteria have been cut and used. Now the job is to wade into the smaller stuff to harvest that for heat.

Over many years of not having the correct tools to do any number of jobs, I've made it a point to seek out more specific tools for the job. To cut up all these small branches I found a tool called an Alligator which is a small set of jaws with a chainsaw inside. You clamp the jaws around a branch, close them, and the chainsaw activates, cutting the branch. This tool should make quick, safe work of those smaller branches where a full-sized chainsaw is just too much tool for the job.

If I'm still around for the next heating season (and some of us aren't so sure we will be) I won't be managing my firewood in this manner. In the warm weather to come, I need to build a woodshed and cut and split several cords of wood in log lengths that I've already had delivered. None of this cut-and-burn-as-I-go business. However, it's been good for me physically because I needed to ease into it. I'm not all in yet, but I have noticed that I can stay out and cut and haul wood for longer periods of time than when I started this project. I don't push too hard and I'm not afraid to stop and take a break when I need it.

Now I'm beginning to understand why a lot of old Vermont geezers that I've known all my life became so obsessed with their woodpiles and woodlots. If you are attempting to squeeze every last B.T.U. from your own land to avoid paying for oil or propane you soon realize how much your sweat equity gives you in return. The other benefit is to keep you physically active. At this point, I look forward to going out to cut wood.

My past experiences with splitting wood, both manually and with a machine, has also been satisfying. In the end, all of your physical expenditure leaves a stack of wood that will save you money and keep you warm later. Talking about this with my biological father recently revealed another benefit that he shared. Most Vermonters tend to supplement with wood but have a centralized heating system in their homes. Those wood fires that you get going in your stove in October and in April truly save a lot of money. The waste happens when we simply think "well, the heating season hasn't really started, or it has more or less ended, I'll just let the furnace kick in when it gets chilly because it's too much hassle to start a fire." Those are the times when you go through too much heating fuel. Make the effort to use your wood heat and you'll see savings in fossil fuel usage.

That's where I expect to get a return on investing in that Alligator trimmer. Using the narrower branches for smaller fall and springtime fires ought to save some heating fuel and save me the hassle of finding a place to get rid of all those branches. Normally I'd haul all that stuff to the landfill. This time around I should haul two thirds less material to the landfill and burn the rest in the wood stoves.

Being retired allows time for this fussy wood obsession but at least it has an economic and physical purpose. Old poops like me need personal playgrounds I suppose.

The Morning Almanac with Arlo Mudgett can be heard Monday through Saturday mornings on radio stations Oldies KOOL FM 106.7, 96.3 and 106.5 and over Peak-FM 101.9 and 100.7. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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