I have been blessed throughout my life to have had the opportunity to earn a living with my mind and not my back like my father. In my father’s time physical labour was a necessity of both on and off the jobs. My parents did not subscribe to family planning in the modern sense. I was the fourth child born all of us boys. On the day of my birth in February of 1958 I had an 18 year old, a 16 year old and an 8 year old brother. By the time I was born most of the hard living of the post war era was done. But my brothers’ filled me on some of the realities of life at that time.
We grew up in a small pulp mill townsite nestled next to the Upper Ottawa River about 350 kilometers north of the City of Ottawa. We were literally surrounded by pristine wilderness that not only provided the source of endless recreation but it also provided some life necessities such as wild berries, wild game, maple syrup, fish and firewood for heating.
Before I was born my family heated our home, like most families in our community, with a wood burning furnace. There was an option to burn coal but was viewed as an expensive, dirty and smelly means to heat a home. Besides why pay coal when a hardwood forest with plenty of heating fuel was a couple of hundred meters from your back door.
Cutting firewood in the decades prior to my birth was no easy task. Since we were not farmers or loggers the ownership of mechanized equipment such as a tractor or chainsaw were not affordable or available. In their place human brute strength and determination were the only viable substitute.
My father was not a big man. He stood about 5 feet 8 inches tall a weighed about 150 pounds. I don’t know if my father enjoyed or even liked cutting firewood as it was more than a pastime. It was a necessity that became part of the daily routine of life. For each winter heating season, our family would use between 3 to 4 cubic cords of wood.
Picture a pile of stacked Firewood about the size of a pickup truck all of it cut, split and stacked by hand without any assistance by powered machines. Despite the hard work, I believe it did provide some satisfaction of a well job done and a warm home on a cold January night.
My relationship to firewood is much less complicated and at this point in my life using wood as a heat source is clearly a choice or a preference and we only burn it at our off the grid cottage. There are plenty of heating options today but none that provide the challenge, physical pain and satisfaction that comes from wood heat. I only cut about an ⅛ of the the annual firewood my father cut, split and stacked annually. Even then I only do it every other year.
Moreover I have to sheepishly admit that I take full advantage of our modern mechanized world. I cut the wood with a chainsaw. I then transport it in an all terrain vehicle that allows me to get next to the wood source. Then a powered wood splitter makes easy work of that task. The only part of the process that resembles how it was done in my father’s day is the actual piling of the wood in the woodshed.
Because of my soft life, even with all the help from machines, I find the work quite taxing. Needless to say I’m also thankful for the wonders of modern pain relief medication. But even with all the pain and fatigue that comes with cutting firewood at my age, there is truly a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
The ability to see the “fruits” of my labour in front of me in a way that is real and measurable is something that is often missing when it comes to work in the modern sense. Hence the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that come from cutting firewood.
The whole experience that begins with being in the forest to appreciating the heat from the wood fire on a cold February night is fulfilling and rewarding. Although there is little resemblance to how firewood was cut in my father’s day, I do feel there is a spiritual connection and appreciation of the beauty of the land and the blessings it provides.
As I get older, the importance of physical work and the sense of accomplishment that comes from it can’t be overstated. Sometimes you need to feel a little pain and exhaustion to truly feel alive.