Jim Zumbo - Everything Outdoors

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A Firewood Disease. Could it be?

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FW1So she walks over, looks at the woodpile, and says, "I think you have a problem." I put down my 8 pound splitting maul, thankful for the break, and say, "problem? I have a problem?" "Yes," she says, "and there must be a name for it." She thinks a minute and says, "I've got it. EXCESSIVE COMPULSIVE FIREWOOD DISORDER. ECFD. That's the name of your affliction. I think it fits." And she walks back in the house. I'm sure she's feeling pretty proud about herself for that perfect acronym.

I look at my woodpile. Woodpiles, actually. There are seven of them. I did a rough measurement. Something like 95 firewood or face cords (2X4X8). The piles are not simply stacked with little forethought. They are carefully considered. One is all Russian olive. Another is elm, oak, and ash, none of which grow wild in northwest Wyoming. So where did I get that wood? If I told you I picked the wood up while visiting pals in other states, I might get a knock on the door from the CIA for illegally transporting firewood across state borders. So I'm being mum on that issue. Actually, the oak might have come from elsewhere, but the ash and elm were obtained locally, in town, where I was FW2quick enough to beat the competition and to lay claim to wood from trees that were cut down. There are also piles of softwoods mixed with cottonwood and aspen. Those are native here. Most of the softwoods are Doug fir. There is also Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine, limber pine, ponderosa pine, alpine fir, and cedar. Last year there was a pile of wood from Washington's coastal rain forest obtained while visiting my daughter, Janette. The CIA can't get me for that because it's gone, burned up, no DNA as evidence. The piles are also segregated by age. The older wood will be burned first. Green wood will be allowed to season, ready in a couple years. A guy down the road says I have a lot of junk wood.

It's CHARACTER wood, bubba. It ain't junk wood unless it's punky and crumbles in your hands. I think wood that's all the same size, same shape and same species is boring. I love tossing a piece of mystery wood on and wondering how it will burn. Chalk it up to me being a pyro, and a fascination for flames produced in a fireplace or campfire.

More than one person has gazed at my woodpiles and asked what in the world I'm going to do with that much wood. Easy answer: Ain't no such thing as too much wood. And I add this comment: "some people get a workout by going to the gym. Some people have a personal trainer. I have neither, and I'm not paying for that exercise." My exercise is free and I have something to show for it. I've never been a fan of running, jogging, walking, or meaningless exercise. Not for me.

FW3As I see it, there are many negatives to having a real fireplace. I define a real fireplace as one that burns real wood, not the propane job that is make believe. I fully understand why some folks have fake fireplaces. A big one is they have no chimney. Hmmmmm. Some live in houses where a fireplace was never built it nor can it be built in. Some simply don't want the mess and bother and work that goes into a real fireplace. Don't get me wrong. Some of my dearest friends have non-wood fireplaces. They're ok for them, not for me. If I ever get a propane fireplace, something is very wrong. Tar and feather me. Life, at that point, would not be worth living.

So what are the realities of having a real fireplace? First, you need wood. You can get wood two ways. You can buy it or obtain it yourself. If I ever buy firewood, tar and feather me again. Life, at that point, would not be worth living. I get my wood from private or public land, the latter being on two national forests in the Cody region. The Feds charge around $27 or so for a firewood permit which gets you a few pickup loads. Though there's lots of public forest land around Cody, there are not lots of accessible trees that qualify for removal. Key word is accessible. And nowadays the Feds passed more laws that restrict your ability to drag wood out of the forest. So, if an accessible tree even LOOKS like it's dying, the good folks from town will immediately cut it down.

One of my favorite wood-cutting adventures is to drive up to the Beartooth mountains with my fishing rod and chain saw. Returning homeFW5 with a truck load of Lodgepole pine and a mess of brook trout is my idea of a fantastic day. Or I might drive up to the Bighorn Mountains, same chain saw, same fishing rod, but I have to buy a firewood permit for that forest. Not a biggie. Easily done. It's worth it.

Ok, so we've determined that wood is essential for a wood-burning fireplace. Once the wood is located, it must be reduced to firewood length logs. If the tree is standing, you cut it down and this can be tricky. Dead trees are far more unpredictable than live trees. So, with the wood cut up, you haul it or roll it log by log to your truck. You obviously prefer that your truck is at the bottom of the slope and you're
cutting uphill rather than vice-versa. So you load and stack the wood in your truck and drive home. When you get home you unload and stack it in your yard. Then, at some point, you must split it so you can then burn it in smaller sizes.

The last step with your wood is to bring it in the house and to the fireplace. With that done, the process is complete. But wait. There are other little issues. Bringing firewood in the house will cause bark and debris to fall on the carpet. There may be bugs in the wood. You are FW6required to feed the fire more often then you might want. And then, the ashes must be taken out and the fireplace cleaned regularly, and if you don't live alone, you hope like hell that your spouse or significant other loves the ambiance and heat from the fireplace as much as you do.

Our fireplace burns 24/7 from late September to mid-May in most years. Sometimes in June if a cold front moves in.

My only lament is that we don't have the great hardwoods found around much of the country. Oak, ash, maple, hickory, cherry, etc. But we make do with what we have. And as far as the obvious creosote that accumulates because we burn a lot of softwoods, not to worry. A chimney sweep takes care of that issue each year. 

It really bothers me that some of my very best hunting buddies have accused me of looking for firewood when we're hunting for elk or
mule deer. But I have to say that every now and then, a chunk of wood catches my eye. It just sort of jumps up at me and says "take me home to your woodpile." 

That happened a couple years ago, when I was driving my truck up a wooded canyon, looking for mule deer. Rick Lambert, Miranda Lambert's dad, was in the truck along with my Wyoming rancher pals Gary and Jake Stearns. As I drove, I saw a beauty of a log, two feet in diameter and four feet long. I immediately applied the brakes FW8and said something like, "holy smokes, lookit that log." The boys were not impressed. I said something to the effect that it was far too heavy to load in the truck. "Stop," said 27 year old Jake Stearns, Gary's son. "That log is a piece of cake. Let's load it." I gleefully FW7backed up to the log, and the four of us lifted, but it slipped. Unfortunately, Rick Lambert didn't let go in time. He wrenched his shoulder and was obviously in pain. Jake then suggested we roll the log up a bank level to the truck bed, drop the tailgate and roll the log in. It worked. That log made it to my woodpile, but it took awhile for Rick to heal. And so the rumor about me looking for firewood over game still persists.

I think I have the biggest woodpile in all of northwest Wyoming. Seriously. But there's ONE guy who has a bothersome very large stack. I hate losing all that sleep over that. Maybe some night I should sneak over with a ruler and measure his pile. ECFD. That's me.

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