Saturday … in the Woods

Remember that song by “Chicago” called “Saturday in the Park?”

It’s from 1972 so I’m showing my age. It talked about stuff people did in the park on Saturdays. Stuff city people do. I never liked the options I had in the city on Saturdays. Ride my bike and go head to head with angry SUV drivers, plant vegetables in my front yard or go shopping. Luckily our kids were young when we lived in the city so we were pretty focused on them on weekends.

Now my Saturdays are fantastic. I heat my house on Saturdays. People in the city warned me about all the things I’d hate about country life. “You’ll hate the sound of rain on a metal roof.” Huh? It’s the greatest sound on the planet! “You’ll get sick of all the work with heating with wood!” Huh? I love heating with wood. I love everything about it. Everything! Especially Saturdays in the winter!

Saturdays start off with a big breakfast with as many scrambled eggs, hash browned potatoes, toast, tempeh and anything else that I can find. I’ve learned from experience that I need to provide my body with fuel before I head off into the woods.

We’d had some snow, so a few Saturdays ago I started out on snowshoes and hiked the area west of our house to look for dead trees to cut. This initial scouting expedition makes a path that’s easier to walk later. There is no shortage of dead wood on 150 acres. Jasper the Wonder Dog accompanies me in the woods, and he loves these scouting missions. He leaps, he bounds, he runs, he digs under snow banks and in grassy spots, he just never stops. I am exhausted just watching him.

Saturday-in-the-woods

After I had found some wood to cut I came back to the house for equipment. I wear chainsaw pants and chainsaw boots. The chainsaw pants have a thick layer of polyester fibres that would immediately tangle and stop a moving chainsaw blade. I have never needed my chainsaw pants. I am very careful with a chainsaw, but like insurance, they are a good thing to have. I have learned in this part of the world that emergency room doctors dread chainsaw injuries. I’m doing my best to stay away from them.

tools-of-the-trade

I’ve also learned to take two saws with me. As in all things in life I like to have a back up plan. One saw will inevitably not want to cooperate, or I’ll get one saw pinched in a downed tree and need the other to cut it out. It has taken me years to learn this lesson.

Then it’s off to the trees. I cut the trees into two and three firelog lengths. Once I get them back to the house I “buck” them into woodstove-sized lengths. This allows me to use my electric “solar-powered” chainsaw on those days when I have too much electricity from my solar panels, usually beginning in February and especially in March.

After I cut the tree up I lay down some scrap lengths of wood and I pile the logs that I’ve cut on top of them. This way I won’t have to shovel them out when I come back for them during the week. Some days I cut for an hour. Some days for three hours. It all depends on my energy level. Some Saturdays I’ll go a round in the morning and go out again in the afternoon. The one thing I’ve learned about a chainsaw is that it’s not a good tool to use if you’re fatigued. I remember hearing that a large number of skiing accidents happen late in the day, when skiers are tired. There are consequences to a chainsaw accident so again, if I feel tired, I quit.

starting-the-pile

There is nothing quite like looking at a pile of wood you have just cut. It’s heat for your house. It’s BTUs of warmth for the next winter. I always cut my firewood a year in advance. There is no book I can publish, no annual report I can lay out, no website I could set up that gives me as much satisfaction as a pile of firewood. “I did that!” It will keep me warm the following winter and it’s carbon neutral so my heating isn’t having a negative impact on others. I know where my heat is coming from next year. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.

Often on a Saturday afternoon I’ll pull a load or two of logs back to the house or to a spot in the woods where I’ll be able to get the truck into in the spring. I like to pack down the path a bit and then let it harden up overnight. It’s much easier the next day if I do. After a few cold nights and a few trips to harden it up it can be like a paved a road. I’ve noticed that the deer appreciate these temporary roads through the forest too.

Most people who work in the woods use ATVs. I have ridden my neighbor Ken’s ATV and it is a blast, and there is no doubt it would be awesome to have one for firewood. I don’t though, for a few reasons. Using an ATV would put carbon into the air unnecessarily. That’s why I heat with wood; it’s carbon neutral. Secondly, I’d have to make bigger trails through the woods. I can cut an area and haul out the wood on sleds in the winter and in the spring you would never know I’d been there. To use an ATV though, “you’re gonna need a wider trail.” The third reason is that doing this all by my own sweat means I get to eat unlimited calories. Think about, eating anything you want and never gaining a pound! It’s pretty awesome!

A good day of cutting on a Saturday usually gives me a week’s worth of hauling. I never seem to cut near where it’ll end up, so there’s usually a long haul involved to get it to where it needs to go. (I wrote about that here.) At this time of year it still gets dark pretty early, so I’m generally out of the office by 4 pm to haul wood until dark. I keep hearing and reading that spending too much time sitting is bad for your health. Having firewood helps ensure that I don’t overstay my welcome in front of my computer.

cutting-near-a-pond

A Saturday of cutting firewood is the greatest way I can possibly imagine to spend a day. Not on a golf course. Not in a mall. Not at a resort. Cutting firewood. Hauling firewood. Watching my dog bound through snow. Peeling off layers of clothing that are soaked with sweat, in January. I just love it and 15 years later I can’t imagine a better thing to do on a weekend.

bliss-in-the-woods

At dinner I don’t worry about how many calories I eat. I feel no guilt about whipped cream on my pie.

After dinner I like to sit by the fire and read novels. I’m getting caught up on the classics, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, anything by Tolstoy or Bronte …

Just kidding! Sorry if I burst your homesteading illusion, but if I try to read at night I’m lucky if I last 15 minutes. I can barely stay awake long enough to watch a movie.

Luckily I see Anna Karenina is going to be out on DVD to rent soon! With Keira Knightley and Jude Law! Woo hoo! I can cross that one off my list.

I do my reading first thing in the morning when I am fresh. As you know from reading this blog, I prefer non-fiction and so I need to be wide awake to tackle the type of subjects that I prefer.

On Saturday nights after a day in the woods I have no trouble sleeping. Michelle mentioned that I was snoring before my head hit the pillow. Life at Sunflower Farm gets better by the day.

Jasper-the-spectator

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10 Responses to “Saturday … in the Woods”

  • Hi Michelle! I believe that Cam bought his chainsaw pants at the same “Small Engine” dealer where he bought his chainsaw. The pants are “Jonsered” brand, just like the chainsaw. If your dealer doesn’t stock them I’m sure you can order them online!

  • Chainsaw pants! Never heard of them. My husband wants to cut our wood when we move this spring and I think he’ll need some of those. Any good sources for them?

  • CJ:

    What is the brand name of those electric saws? How long can you cut those trees (Oak?) on a single charge?

  • Jeff:

    I bless the day I let my wife (finally) allow a friend to cut a 2X2 foot hole in my roof for a wood stove.

    I can’t believe I’ve let this go for so long! In fact, it’s off to put another log on the fire. Wood stoves are an incredible carbon-neutral source of heat, and I’m so glad the wife took me kicking and screaming into the wood-stove community. Wow, is all I can say, this heat is awesome!

  • Terri Alice:

    That Jasper sure is a handsome boy! There is nothing that feels better than wood heat. We have propane for backup but only use it if we have to leave for a long day ( can’t let the kitties get cold!),
    but heat with wood otherwise.
    Just got my Mother Earth New’s and found my favorite Canadian neighbors featured. Guess I have to keep my subscription. I was getting pretty tired of how to kill animal stories.

  • Tricia:

    I can’t wait to have a woodstove someday, so I can scour the woods for wood, scour scrap wood being thrown away in people’s garbages, I’ll scour the earth because I love hunting for things that are useful. I also saved the picture of your dog because it was so darn cute…

  • Hi Susan! Yes, Cam carries a walkie talkie with him and ALWAYS lets me know where he will be working!

  • If Chicago is making you show your age then I must be ancient! I even know the words to that song. sheesh! You look like your having fun. I kinda wonder if you are out in the woods and have an accident, do you have a way of getting hold of Michelle?

  • Cassandra:

    My uncle who is 70 is still heating with wood
    and cutting it himself. One thing that he has
    done is cut a decade’s worth of wood and put
    it in his shed. This way, he says, when he becomes
    unable to physically manage he will still have 10
    years to enjoy wood heat. It’s the most practical
    end of life plan I’ve ever heard of.

  • bunkie:

    great pics cam! we can totally identify with ‘Saturday in the woods’!

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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