October 1, 2020
I used to be a frontiersman.
We moved around a fair amount over the years, with stops in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Maine, Illinois, and Minnesota. Our kids were born in Indiana, but I think they still regard Pennsylvania as their childhood home. All the places we lived had their unique characteristics, from the rabid Republicanism of Indiana to the somnolent boredom of Minnesota.
But it was in Maine that something odd happened that I found out later was not particularly unique to me. Intellectually, I was as modern as they come, setting up an office and computerizing it and thrusting my part of the institution into modern times. Emotionally, however, I think I was sliding back into the nineteenth century.
We bought a small farm, what was called a spaghetti farm since it was about six-hundred feet wide and a mile deep. Our house was attached to the barn and beyond the barn was an open area with a large garden and plenty of room for a short-lived badminton passion.
Beyond that, however, was nothing but forest, my own forest with lots of dead and fallen trees. Interestingly, if you walked west through the forest about a half mile you came to a clear cut that went north and south as far as you could see. I later found out the clear cut was over a pipeline carrying jet fuel to Loring Air Force Base near Limestone.
Since we had three wood stoves to feed I set about in my off hours harvesting that wood and building a stack of firewood. I also took to wearing flannel shirts and the LLBean boots that are as ubiquitous in Maine as the bikini is on a Florida beach.
My tools were an ax, a bow saw, and a wheelbarrow, my persona somewhere between Daniel Boone and Pa Ingalls. I cut that dead wood out in the forest and hauled it back in the wheelbarrow, hauling so much that eventually the handles on the wheelbarrow broke. A quick trip into town the next day with my daughter and before you knew it we had a contractor grade wheelbarrow tied to the roof of the car. I still have, and use, that wheelbarrow, still fully convinced that life is not possible without a good wheelbarrow.
Our first winter found us with a masterful woodpile of all that dead wood, enough to get us through a typical frigid winter. There was a gap, however, in my frontiersman's skills. What I hadn't realized was that that old wood had been lying on the ground for years and that much of it was waterlogged. Love's labors were not exactly lost but that wood generated far more steam than heat during that first winter.
A man never forgets his first chainsaw.
I needed to up my game for the next winter so a trip was made to Sears for the purchase of a fine Craftsman chainsaw – gas powered with a 22 inch blade. It was a pretty little thing, both in its structure as well as the prospect of all the labor it would save me. I also bought a booklet on how to use a chainsaw (which I recommend should you … no, you're not going to buy a chainsaw). No longer trusting the waterlogged deadwood, I began cutting trees. To this day I think I could still notch a tree and get it to fall within inches of where I wanted it. With the logs hauled back to the barn, I began cutting and splitting them into woodstove-size pieces. I filled a wall inside the barn with firewood and by fall we had a great supply of seasoned wood ready to keep us toasty through the chilliest days – and it did that.
Eventually, another job beckoned and we moved even farther north to Presque Isle, about ten miles west of New Brunswick, Canada. We bought a lovely house with a fine fire place. Never once, however, did we use that fireplace. My Inner Frontiersman got shoved aside so that Modern Man could adjust his thermostat.
G.K.Wuori © 2020
Photoillustration by the author