Saturday, April 21, 2012

There's nothing more satisfying than a woodpile.

Alastair Heseltine is a Canadian artist who makes art and objects by interweaving wood (he especially loves willow). We were knocked out by his woodpile and by his artist’s statement; we don’t know when we’ve seen one that said so much in so few words:“I am a sculptor working with mixed media relating to the environment. Imagery is guided by the inherent nature of material and by construction systems evolved through mindful observation and play. I also draw from the full spectrum of routines and activities that support my practice:  Design, craft production, farming and rural life.”
There's nothing more satisfying than a woodpile

By Duffy Cobblesworth, The Woodpile Report
If you've come here expecting to see geranium inverse woodpile photonic band gap crystals or somesuch, well son, you're at the wrong place. Nobody here is that smart, for openers. Which is not to say that actual woodpiles are all that low-tech. Ol' Remus has a fair amount of experience with woodpiles and he's here to tell you they can be at least as fiendish as those geranium whatever-they-saids.

Fer instance, he's made woodpiles all nice'n neat with cobbed ends and robust pile bottoms and just the right amount of space between the chunks for air to flow through, maybe calculated the delta-p (air) with a fluid dynamics program on his steam-powered, belt-driven PC, yet a few months later the stacks were leaning and otherwise askew and a visual offense to those of ordinary sensibilities.

The cause is shrinkage due to drying, on account wood will lose 'way more'n half its moisture over not much time and do it preferentially and malevolently against his ernest desire for a nice, rectilinear woodpile that looks so fine and well-behaved passers-by nod in admiration.

Some folks build the pile-ends leaning inward from the start. It's a practical if somewhat inelegant solution. Others go all Mother Earth with out'n out exhibitionism, like circular piles, and still others favor industrial means like driving metal end-posts into the ground and there's those who make a continuous woodpile like some replica of Hadrian's Wall using standing trees as bookends. Ol' Remus figures these ways are jes' surrender in disguise and relies on the tried 'n true, namely and to wit: instinct and luck. Then he hopes he's not having a bad day.

There was a fellow down the hollow a time back that got so exasperated with all this he threatened to set fire to the woods and open his windows and be done with woodpiles altogether. 'Course, he came to his senses, but only somewhat, 'cause last anybody knew he was figuring to cut a hole through the wall and on through the back of his wood stove and feed the whole log from outside with spring pressure from behind so he wouldn't need to refill his stove 'till it was time for a fresh log.

Contrary to appearance, woodpiles do more'n just sit there, they become a community center for critters, home to residents and transients, chipmunks and mice and snakes and spiders and such. And too, a place heated with wood likely has a mosquito or two hummin' around even in cold weather on account they get revived when you bring chunks inside. They think it's still summer and no amount of logic seems to dissuade them.

Woodpiles are also a source of comfort and reassurance to ol' Remus bein' as how he can jes' look outside and see his winter's heat regardless of power outages or come what may. It's not like with distributed fuels like oil and propane and such. Jes like precious metals, there's no third party. Come to think on it, there's no second party, no depending on delivery promises. Look outside and there it is. One full cord of good hardwood—meaning four feet high, four feet deep and eight feet long—runs about 20 million Btu, for red oak specifically, and it's simplicity itself, your woodpile is either there or it isn't. Coal runs about three times the Btu of wood, but it would take forever to stack. Still, Remus thinks about it from time to time.

Woodpiles are educational too. A person who puts up his own wood soon learns the difference between, say, an ash—good—and a tulip poplar—bad. Poplar will put a good fire out. The difference is easy enough to see in the summer, jes' look at the leaves, but in the fall you gotta go by more subtle things. Ol' Remus started out laying his hand on the bark, poplar will have a slight soapy feel to it, but eventually he got good enough at it so's a good look sufficed.

He also learned not to take down a beech near water on account the grain is so twisted and dense they're all but impossible to handle with a peevee or split with a Go-Devil. And he learned a healthy cherry tree looks dead when the leaves are off on account the lowest big limb really is dead, most often. And when he's felling a tree he backs off perpendicularly when it starts to fall so as to avoid getting speared by springback. Ol' Remus has seen folks stand fast when a tree begins to fall, to admire their work you see, only to have the butt-end go by their face like the Midnight Special. And they were the lucky ones. Then there's all the stuff that can happen when using wedges, or when the cutting bar gets pinched, or when one tree gets hung up in another, and so forth.

Woodpiles are more'n they appear to those who figure the whole of life can be dialed-in, folks who figure real involvement is setting a thermostat. A woodpile is planning ahead made tangible, puttin' up for the future in elemental form, something akin to having elderberries in February from yer own patch. It ain't easy and it ain't simple but come deep winter there's nothing more satisfying than a woodpile. Well, not nothing.