The Wildwood Zealots


The jewel in the crown of our house remodelling is Phil’s log burner.

It is just a fire, and a simple chimney outside; one cannot cook on it. But it can keep upwards of one room toasty, in October at any rate. And, you see, the heat is free.

That is one of the reasons my very slightly pyromaniac husband loves it so. Another reason is that it burns prettily and thoroughly, leaving only a small pile of ash in the morning.

We do not get our wood from the garage. Oh, no. We started by going out and picking up small ineffectual bits of wood from the forest floor. All well seasoned, all perfectly nice, but they did not have the advantage of bulk. It seemed to be scratching the surface of setting up a log pile.

So one day, I was out with the dog, and I saw this long pine tree.

Well, perhaps I exaggerate. Well-developed sapling would be closer to the mark. But I shall refer to it as ‘tree’ for the remainder of this post.

It was probably about twice my height; it had a lovely slim trunk which tapered to the most promising twigs, perfect for kindling to help light a fire. It had been lying there, on the forest floor, fallen and forgotten except by the beetles and bugs, gently seasoning throughout a decent English Summer.

I know what I could do with that, I thought. I could log that.

But not here.

So: I picked up the tree, found its fulcrum, and balanced it all the way to the big main road.

It is fortunate that I had picked a quiet time to teeter across, proudly bearing my pine tree.

A warning: once you have begun collecting whole trees it can become addictive. We’ll walk past some fallen beauty and comment gruffly: “That’s two evenings, that is.”

And it is: because once home and in our back yard we saw each tree into myriad logs, and each log is a heat-pod just waiting to be released.

The other day we employed child labour. Come on, kids, we said to them, we’re going to collect some wood. And they protested vigorously, but I will tell you that every Shrewsday except the dog was carrying part of a tree home to Shrewsday Mansions that night.

Now: you might be thinking: Nutter.

And this is what 95 per cent of the population of our area would also think. So: when we spot someone coming, we show ourselves to be truly fickle. We ditch the tree at some point for later reclamation, and stroll nonchalantly past saying our good mornings or good afternoons.

It has brought a new frisson to walks in the forest, if one were needed. We have learnt how to snap them in just the right place so the trees we bring home do not require the balance of Charles Blondin Β and five clear minutes to cross the road.

I am sitting here in front of a blazing fire. Only thing is, it smokes the house.

So when you walk in, you are put in mind of kippers and well-smoked bacon, rather than freesia and gentle English roses.

You win some, you lose some. We are zealots: newly-converted eco-warriors. We are off-grid.

What a bit of smoked kipper in the face of all that free heat?

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55 thoughts on “The Wildwood Zealots

  1. When I first read: “I know what I could do with that-I could log that,” I read it as BLOG THAT, (which seems accurate anyway.) Sorry about the smoke. But hey, Rilke suffered from smoke inhalation when writing The Notebooks of Malte Brigge. It didn’t seem to hurt his prose. Nor does it seem to adversely affect yours.

  2. Beautiful fire. It’s good you only pick up fallen trees, not cut down live ones.

    πŸ™‚ I heard about a guy in Canada who subscribed to every free bit of junk mail he could get, and used them all to keep his fire burning.

    1. Oh, no, I’m a CS Lewis lover; I could never cut down trees, all those beautiful naiads and dryads. That junk mail is an interesting proposition! But it would take a lot to keep the fire going…

  3. How could you? Think of all the creepy-crawlies deprived of one of the things they love creeping and crawling in. Think of the other trees, having to do without the nutrients from the eventually-decomposed fallen one?
    But free heat? Just some carting and sawing? Hmmm.
    I’m sure the forest will survive.

    1. Col, this forest has had wood collected from it from centuries. It’s part of the cycle. There is plenty to share between us and the beetles: maybe I should put very small condemned notices on the wood I intend to swipe?

  4. My son remembers when I would head off with him to Oxshott woods, in our old Morris Traveller, with saw and axe on board. I didn’t realise then that it was a harbinger of things to come. Good to see you have a wood burner.

  5. I love our wood burner. Our logs come in huge bags on a truck and have their own space in the de-cluttered garage/ storage space (no car of ours has ever been in there). I’m now eyeing up that forest along the road a bit πŸ™‚

  6. The pedant in me wishes to know whether it could be classified as ‘stealing’? Just out of interest. I agree with colonialist’s points too. Hmm. But not having to pay for heating? Ah, the joys. πŸ™‚

    1. Stealing: “take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it:”
      Now I am left wondering whether beetles have personhood.

  7. Some days, such as this one, I wish I lived down the road a bit and could go logging with you. The word pictures are vivid…the mighty pine, felled by a storm, wrestled to submission by Kate and her trusty companion. From my youth, I hear the crackling and spitting of the logs. My eyes are watering from the smoke, my skin and clothing covered in the sticky pitch. It is pure, unadulterated HEAVEN. The stove is genius, as are the logging expeditions. Fantastic post.

    1. Thanks! For mighty pine, though, I might have to substitute ‘spindly pinette”. A lot of these trees fall in the winds, having seeded three or four years ago and reached for the sky, only to find their roots are not strong enough to bear them.

      We are having fun, though πŸ˜€

      1. πŸ˜€ One day, should you find yourself in this neck of the woods, you should join us. Though I wonder if our pines would match the ones of your childhood…

  8. I have a wood burning fireplace that I love in the winter but I have to actually buy my logs, oh well. A friend of mine scours Craigslist for any free wood offered but I’m not quite that enthusiastic. But there is nothing like the sound of wood crackling in the fireplace.

    1. We have been keeping our eye out for wood from other sources, RMW,it’s a really good idea. But I must own that nothing is quite as good fun as trundling round the forest looking for it.

  9. Kate,
    What a great story!!! Being the redneck that I am, which I’m really not, I would just walk down the road with the tree on my shoulder and greet those out for a stroll as if nothing is out of the normal. I’m also thinking that Macaulay and his leg of deer would add another dimension of burnt aroma to the house…but on second thought, you may just want to teach him to bring his own limb since he seems to be really enjoying the fire.

      1. On this side of the pond they make backpacks for dogs that look very similar to saddle bags for horses. Macaulay could start pulling his own weight around the homestead.

  10. You must know how this warms me, Kate. You are clearing the forest of fallen trees, making way for new growth to take hold, and warming your house at the fire. It is like finding the Yule log every time Macauley needs a walk.

  11. There’s something so elemental and comforting about a real wood fire, whether it’s at home or a campfire in the woods. Older homes in Oklahoma, and all the ones I had there, had wood-burning fireplaces. But eventually I installed gas logs because real fires involved a lot of tending and couldn’t just be “turned off” at bedtime. Here in Colorado, I haven’t seen any wood-burning fireplaces in the newer homes. I suspect it’s because of concerns about the embers they emit and the constant fire danger.

  12. Dear Kate, seeing McCauley in front of the fire brought immediately to mind the song “Oh the weather outside is frightful, but in here’s it’s so delightful. . . . Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.” Ah there’s a nip in the air and I find myself envying you the flame and the heat. Peace.

    1. Here, it is unremittingly damp and autumnal, Dee: the snow will come, I am sure, and we’ll need to have carried a lot of wood here by then! But the flames are wonderful, night after night. We come home, stretch out those gorgeous if tasteless recliners, and toast out tootsies.

    1. My handbag is sporting a green-handled one, Pseu, which used to belong to my eminently practical mother in law and she has kindly made available to me. You sound uncannily like the voice of experience: do you stoke a hungry fire nightly, too?

      1. No! But I have a folding pruning implement, which is damned handy πŸ™‚ in the garden. And some garden trimmings at the side of the house stout enough to make more than kindling.

  13. Hehehe! My mind’s eye has an image of you flinging a great oak over someone’s garden fence trilling ‘Morning’ to a neighbour across the road, Hyacinth Bouquet stylee, as you straighten your hat and jacket! Thanks for the imagery, Kate!

  14. Bwhahahahaha too funny – love the way you drop the logs when people pass by πŸ˜‰ We also have a wood burner (for the first time in my life) now we live on acreage and collecting wood does become a bit of an obsession (as does the burning of wood in wood burner) πŸ™‚

  15. Lovely fire and very resourceful. I well remember my Dad chopping wood for the fireplace for our home in the country. Bitterly cold nights were made much more tolerable because of our fireplace. Cheers, Kate..

  16. As you, Phil, Felix, Maddie and Mac all huddle by the fire, where are the cats? I suspect Monty might be hiding under the bed trying to keep his balls. There’s something Python-esque in how you go about gathering your wood. I think you and Phil are taking turns being John Cleese.

  17. We still have — Ash Tree Dieback permitting — quite a few mature ash trees in our three or four acres, which regularly drop twigs and branches to provide kindling and occasionally logs. I like it that the clue’s in the name, but they do catch light quickly (less dense and quick to dry out) to form a fine ash.

    By the way, be careful with burning a lot of pine — the resin in the wood can form a residue on the stove pipe interior, I’m told, which at worst can later catch alight or at best just tar it up — best to mix the wood types and not burn pine exclusively.

    But I agree, there’s nothing like a wood fire on an autumnal evening. Especially when it’s nature’s gift. And don’t feel guilty about wood scavenging — just call it Voluntary Woodland Management, even make yourself a badge (Woodland Management Volunteer) and nobody will know…

  18. What a warm and cheerful addition to any home! I love the resourcefulness of your new log-burner. I can just see the entire family stealthily moving about in masks and camoflage, hiding in the shadows and then eventually carting home the stolen loot! I think you’re on to something, though. If discovered, everyone is going to want to raid your forest and that won’t do! πŸ™‚

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