About the only thing I remember from Tom Wolfe’s novel, “A Man in Full” (the much less successful followup to “Bonfire of the Vanities”), was a character who said that when he wanted to make a fire he started with a tree.
I liked that. In many ways, I’m like that. Sure, I have a nice fireplace where all I need to do is arrange newspaper, kindling, and firewood, flick the lighter, and presto — blazing fire, viewed from two sides even, both the kitchen and living room.
At home, I make the fire and tend the fire. I’m largely responsible for it.
I’ve been running low on firewood so today I went to my friend Jim’s who had some logs under a tarp and we split them together and I loaded the back of my vehicle. These were from a tree we’d cut down last year and sectioned up.
There’s also a group of us in my town that keeps an eye out for fallen trees after storms. Or if any of us have a tree go down on our property. Or we spot someone piling logs for giveaway. We get the chainsaws out and cut what we can. If we’ve struck the motherlode we’ll rent a splitter and use the one truck among all of us to deliver wood to each of our driveways.
Splitting wood with a maul is hard labor, requiring full-body engagement. My maul has a heavy steel head and a composite handle. You have to give a big barnyard swing and it will shatter through most sixteen-inch lengths. The concussion of the impact rattles me.
Really big pieces require a maul and wedge. Then you’re pounding the head of the wedge, steel on steel, loud and striking like a nineteenth-century laborer driving railroad spikes.
After the wood is split, I store and season my it in a backyard crib I built from lumber that used to be the frame for our backyard ice rinks. The wood that’s most ready to use I store in the garage so I don’t have to trek outside in the winter every time I want to make a fire.
The entire quest is like a fire-making assembly line: Fell or find a tree, cut into sections, transport, split, store in crib, transfer to garage, move to basket next to fireplace, burn.
Obviously I love a fire. But lately, I’ve been conflicted about burning wood and its environmental impact. Cognitive dissonance, that’s all I can say right now.
And “Quest for Fire” — have you ever seen that movie with Rae Dawn Chong? You must. It’s a classic, in a weird kind of way. Not one word of dialog. I remember seeing the movie at the drive-in theater, on a chilly night, wishing I could make a warming fire in the bed of the pickup truck.