Out of the Wood: Buried Mysteries

Here at Wishetwurra Farm, we use wood for heat in the cold seasons. Fuel oil is one of the things we don’t buy.  For us, fuel is not from “fossil” carbon, but is from “contemporary” recycled carbon. There’s nothing like sitting in a rocking chair next to a warm wood stove when the cold winter wind howls outside.

Up until last year I split all our firewood with a maul. Now, in a concession to advancing age, I borrow a friend’s splitting machine. My back is thanking me for this change.

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The Wishetwurra “wood yard”, with a view of Scotty’s splitter on the left. The little pile in front is various small or gnarly pieces that are destined for fireplace use.

Instead of a pile of trunkpieces and bolebolts, whining to be attended to, there is now a big, double-humped pile of newly-split wood next to the woodshed. If the wood pile was a camel it would be a dromedarian pile, but a bactrian one.

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The front hump of the bactrian woodpile. The front hump is mostly hardwood, the back hump is pine and spruce. The two types will be mixed when they go into the woodshed. The softwood will be for short, hot fires and for getting coals ready to put hardwood over, for longer and overnight fires.

Right now, the woodshed is mostly full.

A full woodshed is better than money in the bank.

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Each bay of the woodshed holds a “real” cord of wood. A full cord is 4′ x 4′ x 8′, or 128 cubic feet. There are people who try to sell “face” cords, which are 4 x 8 alright, but are only as deep as the pieces of wood are long. A face cord of 16″ wood is actually a third of a cord. To try to end the ripoff practice of selling face cords for the price of full cords, my State, Massachusetts, has made selling “cords” of wood illegal. Wood sales must be made by the cubic foot.

In thanks for the loan of the splitter, I either make improvements to the machine or when I return the it, I pay some rent.

Which by request of the owner is a bottle of good wine.

I like splitting wood. Each species of tree has a different smell. Softwoods, the pines and spruces, the larches and the firs, have distinctive, resinous, almost sweet smells. Pitch pine is particularly fragrant, and red cedar even more so. The hardwoods have characteristic odors. Locust is in the pea family, and has a “pea”-like smell. Maple’s odor is mild, willow smells wet, wild cherry has a real tang, or “bite” to its smell. The oaks have a good solid scent, and a number of oaks, particularly reds or blacks, will sometimes have an actual stink to them, anywhere from “old foot” to “skunk”.

You know right away when you open up one of those pieces of wood.

You occasionally find beetle larvae when you split a piece of wood. Sometimes they’re snugged up under the bark and other kinds bore right into the wood of the tree.

In one piece of red oak I found a particularly large larva.

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Almost four inches long!

Imagine the sharpness of these larval jaws, and the muscle power behind them, that enables them to eat a tree.

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I don’t know what this will grow up to be. I’ve got an ID request in at BugGuide.net . Will let you all know if an answer is forthcoming.

Shortly after finding the mystery larva, what should pop up but an even more interesting mystery.

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What is it?

Her’s a closer view.

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And an even closer one.

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It’s metal. Not rusted. Probably stainless steel. The tip is at least six inches into the wood. How did that happen? Was it stuck into the tree years ago, and did the tree then grow over it?

In the photo, where the blade emerges from the wood, there is no sign of the tree having yet grown around the knife, so this part of the penetration must be from the initial “stabbing”.

I’m going to carefully split away more of the log, and then carve to the knife, to try to get some more clues about this interesting inclusion.

Keep an eye out for a conclusion about the inclusion.

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