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Farewell to Wood

12/26/07 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(HOST) Commentator Bill Mares has heated with wood for years, but recently he's decided it's time to turn over a new leaf.

(MARES) A few weeks ago, we put out onto our Burlington curbside the ten logs left over from last year's three-cord wood supply.  In two hours those last logs of our last woodpile were gone - presumably to warm some anonymous house or apartment.  
It was fitting that this passing of the fireplace torch took place on the spot where 30 years ago a truck from Hinesburg delivered six cords of wood in eight-foot logs.  That fall I spent four months sawing, splitting and stacking that wood with a Jonsered chain saw, a  rented gas-fired splitting maul, and numerous packets of Red Man chewing tobacco.   

We began burning wood in the early 1970's when we lived in St. Johnsbury.  For one year our only heat was wood.  Then oil joined maple and birch on the fire brigade.   
After that first Burlington year of splitting and spitting, we turned to pre-split logs, but there were always enough chunks that needed one more rendevous with maul or axe.  Hauling and stacking firewood  became part of the winter's routine.  The woodsmoke smelled good - forget about its effects on the lungs.   The neat stacks made me feel like an architect.  For our kids those woodpiles became fortresses in their backyard wars. Work and political frustrations disappeared in the thwang of maul and wedge.  The logs fed the woodstove in a large porch room with no other source of heat.  A succession of stoves gave us warmth and turned that room into the center of family activities from meals to games to parties.      
I don't know how much money we saved. It depends upon how you value your labor.  The benefits were probably more physical and emotional - wood heat as a hobby of the hearth.
Then, gradually, in my sixties, my back began to rebel. Of course, heating with wood warms you twice, as the cliché goes. But hauling three cords of wood - log by log four times from driveway to stack to porch to fireplace - lost its savor. The logs grew heavier each year, especially after the kids left and we had to do it all our ourselves.   
This fall, after 36 years of trying to balance energy efficiency, environmental responsibility, Vermont self-sufficiency and convenience, we turned to a gas fireplace.   
I bid farewell to logs and mauls, splitters and splinters.   Farewell to carpet burns and the ubiquitous ash that turned spider webs brown.
Farewell to a sore back and smashed toes, to aching arms and banged thumbs.  Farewell to Jotul and  Hearthstone and Garrison and Avalon - and the annual visit of a chimney sweep right out of Mary Poppins.
I'll miss the routine, the special warmth of wood, the pocket pride of accomplishment. But for my aging spine my Christmas present came early, and in all this snow just kept giving.  

Bill Mares of Burlington is a writer, former teacher, and legislator.
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