Spring sees wood pile dwindle, but there’s more sun in the sky

| February 25, 2020 1:00 AM

Spring at the ranch meant fewer than two cords of wood in the shed.

Cut and split and stacked, the firewood became the measure of the season and when it dwindled to a few rows against the back wall in the woodshed that sat up on blocks and held the skis and hunting and fishing stuff, rods and tree stands, rope and packs, and the occasional meow or purr because it was home to the cats, it either meant spring was close, or the house may get chill until it arrived.

There was always enough wood though, because getting wood was one of those things you did months earlier, to get out of the house and into the woods with anyone with two arms to pack bolts from where they lay, cut, often split, to the back of the pickup and then into the shed.

Wood packers were required to have a sense of humor too, and a few jokes however droll, to pass the time from packing and stacking. The jokes were shared during the ride on the mostly bumpy roads, to another round of packing and stacking back home, and they helped speed things along.

What do you call birds that stick together? Vel-crows. Get it?

You could tell by the state of the stacks, rows of them 4 or 5 feet high that reached almost to the door, what kind of day it was in the woods.

If the end stacks — the foundation that prevented the firewood from spilling out the sides — were solid it meant the day when the stacks were constructed, back then in October between the last day of the hunting season, and the first day of the next one, had likely been fine.

Teetering end stacks spoke of weariness, or knotty pine, or some other limby encumbrance, which made splitting tougher and stacking less constructive.

What did the blanket say when it fell off the bed? Sheet! Get it?

By the time the stacks dwindled down in March, those autumn days were just a memory turned into wood chips and splinters and small chunks tossed into the kindling barrel by the door.

By then, the sun was still a commodity but more prevalent than in January. It warmed the house that was built to withstand a Nebraska winter by a man who had moved out from the Plains.

And by then, the elk in the morning lumbered slowly out from the edge of the ridge and slipped across to the pastures, which was another sign of spring. The herd, scrappy looking cows mostly, some others that had dropped their horns or were about to, picked its way through the top of the clearcut. The morning moon was a sickle with a star riding its back, and the sky was cold blue that would soon melt into day.

The reprod where the elk lived — the young trees, brush and the larger spindly trees left over from when the logging company harvested the timber on the side of that hill — provided food and shelter for the big deer that spread out slowly across the hillside like maple syrup. Their orange rumps were the first thing a casual observer noticed from a distance before he or she pulled over to the edge of the road and rummaged around for binoculars.

The elk had weathered the winter and now sought out the new shoots in the hay fields farther down and closer to the creek, where it slowed and began its meanders.

Other areas had more elk.

The benchland along the river was a favorite spring refuge for a bigger herd and residents whose names had been in the phone book for a half century often went out and picked the antlers dropped by the bulls, but the new owner of the farm fields frowned upon the practice. He had moved his family in from a less hospitable place and painted orange warnings on the trees and strung signs along the fences that surrounded the few hundred acres. When he spied someone foraging for horns he drove up in a side-by-side and shooed them off.

He was humorless, and had a furnace. The natural gas truck came out to fill his tank.

Like the neighbors, we had a wood stove and the work it required, which as Henry Ford is said to have said, kept us twice or thrice, or even more warmed.

If it wasn’t the cutting, splitting, hauling and stacking, or carrying of bundles from the wood shed to the house piled high into arms curved like a rocking chair leg, it was the lousy jokes that came with the work.

What do you call a fish with no eye? Fsssssh. Get it?

Ralph Bartholdt writes about the outdoors for the Hagadone News Network. He can be reached at rbartholdt@cdapress.com.