Our annual wood-stacking party came late this year. Usually, my husband cuts and splits wood through spring and summer mornings, and we load the woodshed in September with the help of our adult sons and daughters and whoever else might be in the vicinity. Somehow we all got too busy last autumn and didn’t stack wood until December 20 — Solstice Eve. The woodlot out back could have been covered in deep snow already, but a few weeks of warmer temperatures earlier in the month left the ground bare. Five of us transferred a little over three cords of firewood into the shed in just a couple of hours. It’s enough wood to keep us warm until April.
We cull free wood from our surroundings. Once a county crew removed a dead tree from the easement along our neighbor’s property and, by request, dumped the massive pieces of trunk on our driveway. Another neighbor let us claim whole trees he’d had removed to extend the reach of his lawn. But most of our wood is windfall harvest — nearby trees toppled in Hurricane Irene that my husband dragged out of the forest to add to our cache.
A high-efficiency Danish woodstove installed in our living room burns cordwood so thoroughly that there is hardly any ash leftover. It even has a secondary combustion feature that burns off gases released by the primary fire itself, further minimizing the escape of pollutants into the atmosphere. A tempered glass door gives us a cozy view of the firebox, so we can bask in the orange glow of burning logs.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, this process liberates up to 9000 BTUs of heat energy per pound of wood, essentially the same amount of energy the tree soaked up from the sun when that pound was created — an almost incomprehensible fact that piques my curiosity even further. Think of it: Energy from the sun gets captured in the lignocellulosic biomass of trees. In combustion that energy is freed, giving off heat and light. The enameled cast iron body of our woodstove radiates the warmth of the sun decades after it reached the earth to be converted into growing plant matter.
This energy cycle boggles my little mind and calls forth an utterance of dumb gratitude. After we loaded the shed, we sat down to a Solstice feast of venison and homegrown veggies and store bought chicken — all byproducts made possible by the earth’s proximity to the sun.