While I was on a recent hike in the woods north of Concord, my trail opened up into a large field, where I heard the sound of a chainsaw. Far in the distance, I saw a man busy cutting wood. As I got closer to him, I waved to announce my presence. When I got close enough to speak, he turned off his chainsaw. His name is Hermel Fortier, and he lives close to the boundary line between Concord and Loudon. He was busy getting his firewood for the upcoming winters.
When my wife and I lived in Maine, we heated our house with a wood-burning stove, and we found it had a charm all its own. The fire in the stove became a focal point in our living room. How easy and comfortable it was to visit with family and friends circled around the stove. Adding ambiance to the atmosphere, the dancing flames ignited our imagination and sounds of the crackling fire filled the silences in between our reflective conversations.
Since the dawn of time, humans have burned wood for light, warmth and cooking. Firewood does not have the place in American life it once did, but there are still many in New Hampshire heating their homes by burning wood. It takes us back to a time when life was simpler and the gentle radiant warmth from burning wood is a deep heat that penetrates our very bones.
Back in my Maine woodshed, I had posted the following well-known mnemonic folklore verse that helped me remember the best kind of wood to burn in my stove:
Beech wood fires are bright and clear, if the logs are kept a year.
But ash wood new and ash wood old, is fit for a queen with crown of gold.
Birch and fir logs burn too fast, blaze up bright and do not last.
Elm wood burns like churchyard mould, e'en the very flames are cold.
Popular gives a bitter smoke, fills your eyes and makes you choke.
Flames from larch will shoot up high, and dangerously the sparks will fly.
Apple wood will scent your room with an incense-like perfume.
Oaken logs, if dry and old, keep away the winter's cold.
But ash wood wet and ash wood dry, a king shall warm his slippers by.
Watching Hermel cut his firewood that day reminded me of Henry David Thoreau's words, "Heating with wood warms you twice; once when you cut it and once again when you burn it."
It will be a year before Hermel will get the second warmth from the wood he is now cutting because, he said, "I let my wood age and dry for about a year before I burn it."