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Woodland Trails: Gardening, and heating with wood

I'm expanding my learning and understanding about wood heat this year. Although this is not the first year I've heated with wood it is the first year I think I am really getting to understand the ins and outs, the whys and what fors and the connection we have to trees. I'm learning the right way to lay up wood for the long, cold winter so I am not running out of wood when I need it!

In his book "Sand County Almanac," a book that everyone needs to read, author Aldo Leopold writes about "Good Oak." "There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is that danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace."

"To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue. To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside."

I grow a garden every spring. I also, like so many of you, hunt and fish to fill my freezer. But those people who garden seem to dwindle in numbers. It's been too long for some since they moved away from the family farm. And more sadly to know there are some who never did live or have relatives who farmed.

It's too bad everyone doesn't get to grow up on a family farm because there they would get an education on what real life is all about. They would truly understand where food comes from and where heat gets its beginnings.

I'm talking about the connection we have to the land. Food does not come from grocery stores. It comes from farms. Each and every of us is dependent on the land for our survival, but when we rely solely on grocery stores for our food we forget that. When you drive through the fast food drive-up window you are NOT thinking of where that burger and fries came from as you dip them into catsup on your way back to work.

And when you get back to work it's easy to complain that it's too cold in the office, store or factory. When you get cold at home you simply walk over to the furnace and turn up the dial on the wall and soon it becomes warmer and everything is all right.

But times are changing. With the economy as it is, many people can't afford to simply turn up the heat. They may in fact have to go the closet and grab a sweater instead and hope for warmer temperatures. But that is not going to happen yet. It's still February. But there all always options!

Where I live, I am blessed because I have a farm background. I know food doesn't come wrapped in plastic, and I heat with wood heat. I still live in the country!

I've got my planting catalogs and I am thinking about the seeds I am going to put into the ground. I will soon start some plants inside and hopefully they will be ready to set in soil when the temperature is right. And I just restocked my wood pile as I was down to my last two logs. I know that's cutting it a little thin but living out in the country I have a good supply of trees just waiting to warm my shins.

My problem is about choosing the right trees. In years past I have always heard that oak is the wood that needs to be burned in a wood furnace. It burns great. It's easy to split and lasts a long time because the coals hang in there for long hours. But I've also learned that elm is a great wood to burn. The problem is that it doesn't split by hand well. But if you have a log splitter then you are a step up because it burns great and clean and the coals last forever!

But when you delve deeply into the environmental picture of which we are just a part, you can really understand the connection of our place with the land and trees. With a tree it all starts out as an acorn or seed. Out of those thousands that actually sprout, which one will grow to the tree? Which one will survive the rabbits nibbling and grow into a sapling? Which young sapling will escape the buck polishing its antlers? Which young tree will make it through drought and high water? In today's world, which tree will avoid construction and road building and development?

In this part of his great book, Leopold now talks about the tree that is warming his home. "It's a warming thought that this one (survived) and thus lived to garner 80 years of June sun. It is the sunlight that is now being released, through the intervention of my axe and saw, to warm my shack and my spirit through eighty gusts of blizzard. And with each gust a wisp of smoke from my chimney bears witness, to whomsoever it may concern, that the sun did not shine in vain."