LOG CABIN CHRONICLES

More thoughts on wood

Posted 03.06.15
FRED RYAN

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | What luxury, in the context of any other place in the world, to be able to burn hardwood for heat. In many countries burning up maple, oak, yellow birch, or beech would be unthinkably extravagant. How wasteful to just burn up such valuable woods. We must seem clueless to the rest of the world.

True, much of our firewood is branches and knots, hollow-core, not good for much else, but it still carries this mysterious value we do recognize -- from its long age and certainly from its strength, perhaps its scents, certainly for its endurance and resistance to wear. Its beauty is remarkable, depending upon how the light strikes the grain. Take Birds-Eye Maple, or red oak with its fragrance of fancy old cheese, birch with its chalky scent, or wild black cherry with its unmistakable inner glow as it dries and softens to grey.

Ancient societies carried this homage further. Wood, or woods, were sacred places. Our immediate ancestors saw the great forests here as obstacles, painstakenly pulled out and hauled off by horse or ox. But forests were sacred places for the Old Religions of our distant ancestors, long before the southlands' Christians arrived. Oak groves were virtual churches, and if any forest was deep and dark enough to be mysterious, it was holy, a holy site for religious pursuits.

The density, the unstoppability of life, the variety and the synergies across all parts of the forest's variety -- this was the original religious environment. These qualities had significance, not the fairy tales we have left, but the emotions and the suggestibility stimulated by tall forests. We still often feel that reverence, our forefathers' deep feelings and emotion, although we've lost whatever knowledge and wisdom accompanied these feelings of awe and extra-human presence.

In modern times this is all reduced to a woodpile. Wood cut, split, and stacked has its value for sure; it's a resource, something both raw and life-giving, more-or-less free for the taking. Own the land, or claim it somehow, and this natural resource is yours. We see things in the simplest terms; a natural resource is a form of personal wealth, something to be cut down. We don't include ourselves as 'resources'; we're not here to be cut down, although so many of us are, day after day.

In a world of free resources, our once-religious feelings become dislodged from nature and attach to our means of exchange: money. A forest is valuable because it is translatable into money. A forest is good, and goodness can be a religious term--but only if it's tied up with making money. That's a definition of goodness we all buy into.

There's plenty more to be said about values, but we do best when we keep them simple, clean, almost solid -- like firewood. It's holy stuff. There may be no mysteries in a wood pile, and that familiarity breeds our contempt. But it's still the holiest thing we will every hold up in our tiny hands.

john@johnmahoney.com




Copyright © 2015 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.15