Wednesday 27 July 2022

What a piece of work is hand

I guess, as survivors, we can remember doing something bat-shit crazy aged 17. What could possibly go wrong? I asked as I gunned my mother's Vauxhall Viva up to 70 mph on a crappy rural road.  The thing is, when you're young and foolish, it seems you'll live forever. It's only later that you see your place in the Universe as small and vulnerable and get to wonder how ant-like people have launched such strong, ambitious, huge projects. To fit humanity's largest constructions into the picture frame, the people responsible become mere pixel-sized footnotes [R - Belfast 1912: that's just the propellors]. For big projects, the tools [diggers] are made big also: but they are still operated by human hands.

I have been tidying up in Crowe's Wood after Kiwi Sean's thinning. The 1 acre woodland is now dappled with sunlight and speckled with small piles of logs. In most cases, adjacent to the log-piles is a neat lay of brash. My task, with some help from Dau.II has been three-fold

  • clear paths with solid footing through the wood
  • consolidate the logs into bigger piles not in contact with the ground
    • we defo have gate-posts in there if not planks
  • salvage shorter, thinner branches for the woodstove 2 winter's hence 
    • my definition of firewood is more inclusive than a that of a professional forester

clear paths with solid footing through the wood is infrastructural: I need to be able to reach all the felled timber and extract it from the wood . . .

. . . but also aspirational. We want to be able to wonder-wander through the trees without losing an eye or falling headlong tripping over a log.
Notes to self:
a) Gdau.II is only 6, her eyes are not at my eye-level;
b) a brash-end as thick as my pinkie is a tripping hazard;
c) sapling stumps can stop a wheel-barrow. 

First half of July was dry and sunny, so I spent many hours in the woods pruning eye-pokers off the conifers and creating a new N25 southern cross motorway at the bottom of the wood, so we can easily get to the furthest corner with a wheelbarrow. The brambles were like trees in places down there but now an occasional snip will keep the paths clear. Elsewhere the paths are more rustic & meandering. Gdau.II identified Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) while preparing for the Easter Egg hunt earlier this year. We can probably expect more typically woodland forbs as the light works its magic.

I also find that I have hauled just about 2 cords or 7 (steres = cu.m.) off loggy firewood into two adjacent stacks [L 4x5x5 ft; R 3x7x8 ft] in the breezy paddock just north of the gate into the woodland. 

I covered them over against the rain and they can hang there until next spring when they should be lighter but still cut-to-length-and-splittable for winter 2023-24. I went to some trouble to strip the bark off the chestnut and split some of the larger rounds before adding them to the stack. Bark is designed to be impervious to water and that cuts both ways. In spite of PPE, I have acquired the usual nicks and dents from the interaction my hands, steel tools and recalcitrant wood. 

One stere of stacked hardwood weighs at least 500kg, so I have apparently shifted 3.5 tonnes of fuel up a 10% slope over the last month. I had intended to make stacks in the wood and only haul them up to the yard when they were 20% lighter. But protestants will tidy and suddenly there they are. I regret stacking the fatter logs unsplit and 1.5m long. But it's mostly ash Fraxinus excelsior and I am confident that it will cut-and-split handy enough next year. For now it is stacked and rain-proofed. It's like a Javi Problem: start at the bottom and work steadily and, even with plentiful tea-breaks, you'll see progress.

I tell ya, I was way better at splitting wood aged 12 than I am now 50+ years later.  I split a lot of wood in the house my folks rented that year. Practice let my hand and eye eventually do it with elegance, efficiency and effectiveness. Of course, because 1966, there was no PPE. Of course I got a few dings. But mastering that skill helped me stand straight in the gale of life's buffets. Now, I'm stepping gingerly and trying to keep digits clear when swinging steel.

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