Thursday, 15 November 2007

Fire, Fire, Burning Bright

Over the last few weeks our lives have been taken over by firewood.

To begin with, it was no more that idly wondering where we ought to get our firewood while we eyed our neighbours log piles. All prudent families in this part of France keep neatly stacked cut wood, laid side by side, two maybe three feet high and stretching along the side of the house, or against the garden fence. Some stacks are many yards long and are ample for even the most severe of winters.

Asking around our local commune, we found the brother of someone who might have three year-old wood for sale. We learnt new vocabulary: chêne (oak), érable (maple), cerisier (cherry), orme (elm) and found a whole new topic of conversation discussing the merits of different woods and how to burn them.

After a visit to choose "our wood", in early October we took delivery of 10 stere (10 cubic metres) which we stacked into two rows of metre-long logs, stretching the width of the wood shed and reaching taller than Tod.

Tod cuts our logs into shorter chunks with the chain saw. The first day I took the hatchet and tried to split the chunks into smaller pieces. After 5 minutes of futile bashing on the veranda floor (more damage to the tiles than to the log) I marched in to announce we were buying a log splitter.

The splitter uses hydraulics to push the log forward onto a wedge which bites into the end of the log. Some logs break instantly with a satisfying "thwack", the two split pieces flying across the wood shed. Other logs, creak and groan and inch forward reluctantly as the wedge forces the wood apart, causing it to buckle and splinter.

The uncut logs are all weathered silver grey. Cutting them reveals a whole other world. Some logs are fine grained with a rose pink core. Others are bright yellow and coarse fibred. Some are light as balsa and split to reveal a network of channels and the fat white grubs of capricorn beetle.

We need to cut and split at least two barrow loads every day, just to feed our recalcitrant kitchen range. It burns hottest when the firewood is no more than four fingers wide and two hand spans in length. Friends think we are mad to cut it so small but also admit that you have to get to know your own stove.

Our other stove, the Godin in the lounge is elderly and the back interior wall is broken, with little chance of a replacement. It smokes badly when lit and we now tend just to turn on the oil radiators. On cold evenings I curl up on the lounge sofa and watch bad TV movies in my puffa jacket, wrapped in a blanket.

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