Every fall Montanans scramble to get the last bits of firewood prior to the start of winter and every time I participate in this tradition I marvel at how great of a workout it can be if you challenge yourself to make it so.
Yesterday Rebecca and I were out cutting firewood in the National Forest. On our drive into the mountains we passed three other couples with pickup trucks out cutting wood. Like us they were scrambling to get more wood for their winter stores since the first real winter storm of the season is rapidly bearing down on us, after it arrives the forest service roads will probably be impassable.
Most people logically choose to drive close to trees and then skid them with winch or rope into a position that permits the shortest possible walk. Not us! At the end of the road is the official trailhead and just across the fence lies a treasure trove of standing dead timber, mixed Douglas Fir and Lodgepole. These trees are still standing because the skidding people can't skid through a fence! 'Our' trees are the perfect diameter for splitting with an axe or maule which is the best way to fight cabin fever in the winter months; they're about twelve inches in diameter and straight as telephone poles. Back down the road all the choice standing dead trees have been removed leaving only gnarled monsters full of limbs and knots, those guys are guaranteed to require a massive hydraulic log splitter, not much exercise to be had there.
Rebecca and I walk briskly up to a nice telephone pole shaped tree, killed years earlier by the ravenous Mountain Pine Bark Beetle, the tree now stands gray as a ghost in the dusk light. I verify where to make my cuts in order to deliver the tree perfectly aimed so it falls without snagging other trees or landing in a thicket. With the saw fired up and the engine screaming I rip into the trunk and send greasy sawdust flying all round, I scan occasioanlly to make sure no one is walking down the trail into the kill zone. I think I hear a crack, wait, definitely a loud crack. Saw off. Timbeerrr!!!!! More cracking and a thunderous crash later the tree lays on the ground right where I wanted it. With the saw powered up again I make quick work of what few limbs remain this huge heat giving product of the earth.
Once everything is limbed out I buck the tree into sections between three and six feet long depending on the diameter. Rebecca has piled the limbs into a nice pile for the USFS to burn this winter, now she walks over and with a nod we agree to begin the real work. "Ready? OK". We lift a six foot section of tree onto our shoulders and begin the brisk 200 yard walk back to our truck and trailer, "You good?", "Yeah I'm good" she responds. Into the bed it goes, we turn quickly and jog back to the tree. With a grunt we lift the next section and begin our march, with hearts pumping, lungs blowing, and skin soaking we go until the tree is all picked up without a trace. Smiling proudly we walk lazily back to the truck carrying the chainsaw, and other tools as darkness settles in and a chilly breeze begins to whistle down the canyon. Not 45 minutes have passed since we began.