To the lighthouse

I’ve never read it. I believe it is a favourite of Old Ma PlaidCamper, and I remember seeing this title on the bookshelves when I was a child, but was never tempted – I thought they’d misspelled wolf. Oh dear… It had a gloomy cover, and Ma told me it was not really about a lighthouse. Now I’m older, and almost ready to read a story that might not be about a lighthouse, maybe I should give it a go? Also, I’m ready to believe Virginia wasn’t a wolf.

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A good point
In between the rain showers and strong and stormy winds earlier this week, we went for a walk to the lighthouse. Our walks don’t always have a point, other than to enjoy being out, but this one did, Amphitrite Point! Who wouldn’t want to visit a location named for a Greek sea goddess? For once, it was the destination, not the journey, man.

Initially, the lighthouse wasn’t the reason for the walk, but it turned out all the trails and little beaches on the ocean side of Ucluelet were closed due to heavy seas washing onto the shore. Oh no! What to do? There’s a dog needing a walk! So to the lighthouse we went, to take in the view, if not the trail.

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Peeking
Well, we were fortunate. As it sometimes does on a day forecast to have incessant rain, the skies cleared, and sun emerged for over an hour. We could see the clouds amassing to the southwest, and a grey wall was creeping towards us from way out west, but that didn’t arrive until we were ready to depart. It wasn’t really creeping, as we found out when the raindrops hit us later, hard and fast, and we would have been soaked had we stayed any longer.fullsizeoutput_58b

Did I mention the trail was closed for safety reasons? Don’t tell anyone, but we did head south of the lighthouse, for barely a hundred metres, to a rocky outcrop high above the busy ocean. From there, you can lean out and peek back to the Broken Islands, and across to the lighthouse itself. Again, don’t tell, but there is a bench off a short side path, and it is completely hidden from the main trail and sheltered by trees and shrubs. Facing west, it is a perfect little sun trap, and often warm even on overcast days. There we sat, protected from the buffeting winds, admiring sea birds battling the weather, and watching the waves crashing against the rocks. A bald eagle flew just over our heads. For a few seconds it seemed almost motionless, hanging there, facing into the wind before disappearing behind the trees further south. (Sharp as ever, I pulled out my camera and took a fabulous picture of the trees it flew beyond…)fullsizeoutput_594

The colours shifted from blue to grey as the afternoon wore on, and the heavy weather started to be felt. It was a real treat to sit and watch the changes. I tried to zoom in and capture the glints and curl of green inside a wave before it collapsed under its own weight and onto the shore. The constant heave and swell of the water further out was mesmerizing and unpredictable. Just when I thought I’d figured out a wave pattern, the ocean shifted and remade itself, tidal pull and undertow, crashing in and washing out with a roar, the booms and hissing audible above the rush of wind.

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Changing…
It was an exhilarating hour or so, full of natural energy, and sights and sounds to thrill the observer. Drawn to the ocean, my gaze barely went to the lighthouse, but it is quite the sight. Small and stocky, planted firm among the black rocks, it isn’t a grand construction, but it looks purposeful, doing an important job on the point.

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Departing
We left when we realized that it was more than ocean spray getting our faces wet, and when the sea had no more hints of green or blue, but was as grey as the wall of cloud just offshore. The wind had never died down, and was now beginning to shake the trees with increasing ferocity – time to wander back, picking up the pace, but with one last glance back to the lighthouse. Perhaps I’ll give the book a go, now it is on my mind. Have you read it?

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Nope, haven’t read it. I’m a dog.
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Snow on bare bones

Really, PlaidCamper? What horrors have you endured?

No, nothing grisly here, quite the opposite! A post about bones, snow, quiet, and a book you might enjoy.

We were on snowshoes down by the Bow and Baker Creek a short while ago. Snow was falling, and the trees had a good coating. The wind had less teeth in the trees, and although temperatures were low, conditions were just right for tramping. And there were bare bones everywhere…

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Decent snow

Maybe the roads were still relatively difficult to make travel out of the city an easy prospect, but returning from Yoho we saw no other traffic on the Bow Valley Parkway, other than a snow plow, and we parked up and had the trails to ourselves. Always an introvert, with a tendency towards being a touch anti-social on my time off, this was a special morning. Two PlaidCampers, deep snow, empty trails, and a backpack full of snacks? Let’s go!

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Quiet enough here

Having spent a few winters lumbering along in snowshoes, I’ve developed a (slightly sad?) obsession with types of snow. There is a difference in what falls where in the mountains. On the BC side, the snow is almost a given – or as close to a given you can get in these post truth global warming days. It will often be deep, and it will often be wet and heavy. On snowshoes, heavy snow is fine if you’re second on the trail, but if you’re first – and if you’re me – it’s a workout. I’ve been known to hang back at a trailhead because I’m anti-social or quiet, but the other truth is I’m letting fellow hikers do my heavy lifting. I know, I know.

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Powdery

On the Alberta side of the mountains, snowfall isn’t as certain compared with further west, but when it falls it is light and powdery. Yes, I prefer to snowshoe through the powder. I’ll hit that trail and cheerfully blast a brave path through unbroken snow, leading the way and selflessly helping those who are to follow later in the day. It’s a workout, but I’m happy to help. I know, I know.

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Tree bones

What about the bare bones that were everywhere? Tree bones! The light and the snow last week seemed to reveal the beauty of the trees in sharp, near black and white. We could see the tree bones laid bare. Alright, perhaps an overactive imagination here. I’ll admit to borrowing tree bones from Peter Wohlleben, and his wonderful book, The Hidden Life of Trees, written in part about the forest in Germany he attends to.

imageHighly recommended as a thoughtful and off centre read about trees, I thoroughly enjoyed Wohlleben telling how, over many years, he redefined his relationship to the trees he works with, evolving from logger to conservationist. His notions about trees being a “wood wide web” of communicating and social entities, beings that taste and smell, are a challenge to conventional thinking. He isn’t a sentimental tree hugger, he acknowledges trees have a commercial value, and he explores and explains different, less destructive approaches to harvesting.

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Beautiful

It’s a great book to read if you enjoy thinking about other ways of looking at the world, and different ways of measuring time or wealth. Preaching to the choir here, but when you consider the beauty and complexity of a single tree, and how that single tree impacts the environment of thousands of other living creatures, then how wonderful is a stand of trees? A woodland? A forest?

As Wohlleben says, trees ought to be beyond the status of inanimate objects like stones or boulders, but because in human measured time they appear static (beyond seasonal shifts), we mistake them as slow or unchanging and ripe for (poorly thought out) commercial exploitation. Well, you might enjoy the book.

dscf4363We certainly enjoyed our deep powder snowshoe hike along the riverbanks and through the trees. As we retraced our steps, I was hoping to spot the dipper we’ve seen several times along this stretch. I’d just told myself to be content with the day, dipper or no dipper, when I caught sight of it out the corner of my eye. Splashing and bobbing upstream, then dipping below the surface to pop up a few metres downstream, this was a fine way to complete our walk. No dipper photos, but a happy memory.

dscf4359Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!

Another glance back at summer…

An outhouse photo? Will this post stink? What about those summer memories you promised, PlaidCamper? It will be ok, honest…

It’ll feature a bit more about my summer reading. Seems like these little summer highlights all have a bit of a literary thread running through them – we must have needed to sit down and think, rather than charge around learning to surf or whatever…(actually, I did read a good book on surfing…but that’s not for now!)

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Park rangers…lovely work on Long Beach

This week, the look back at a summer highlight is two or three places connected through my enjoyment of a single book. I know, rather a slim pretext for what follows, but I hope you enjoy it.

The first place is Long Beach, on the west side of Vancouver Island. A lovely beach to go stretch your legs, we wandered for a couple of hours, and then stopped for a picnic lunch, sitting against a suitably comfortable driftwood log.

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Comfortable log, and a good book

Along with important outdoor items like bear spray and chocolate, I like to pack a book, and this day I’d tucked a copy of Walt Franklin’s Earthstars, Chanterelles, Destroying Angels into my backpack. I’d been saving it for a few weeks, and a sunny beach afternoon seemed a good time to dip into this collection of poetry.

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A quiet spot to sit and read (can you spot Mrs PC?)

When I say it was so engaging that I forgot to pay attention to my immediate surroundings (and how I love those west coast surroundings!), then hopefully you have some idea as to what a splendid collection it is. If you are even only sometimes preoccupied with the natural world around us, then you’d likely be captivated by Walt’s words. Travel, wilderness, identity, conflict, the passage of time, the nature of nature and our place in it; Walt explores all this and more, with insight, a keen eye for detail, and flashes of good humour. I find he can say more in a few lines than most:

moments crystallize

in falling snow-

everything happens,

nothing happens

all at once-

the ancient tales,

the current news

form as lines

across white fields-

across the endless poem

(lines from A Rivertop Reflection)

I’ve read it and reread it cover to cover! It’s fair to say I enjoyed that warm afternoon of lazing at the beach, dipping into the Earthstars, and pausing every now and again to dip toes into the ocean.

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Dipping a toe…

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About a month later, we were hiding away up at Little Bear. As we unpacked the car, my backpack tumbled out and the contents landed at my feet. Bear spray, (more?!) chocolate, a bottle opener, and a sand-sprinkled copy of Earthstars…Well, I’d simply have to reread it!

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Time to sit down with a book

The final poem in Earthstars is Mike’s Truck, a wonderful tale featuring a septic tank, a truck, old Mike, and a memory about an outhouse:

“an old non-flusher with a crescent moon”

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An old non-flusher…

The poem sparked an old memory of ours. When we lived for a while in rural France, our old stone fixer-upper had a septic tank. We’d telephone and then wait outside for the elderly farmer to come by on his ancient tractor to pump out the tank. Oddly happy with his work, after payment he’d drive off with a cheery wave, the tractor puffing blue diesel fumes and crawling up and over the stone bridge out of the village. We never asked where he emptied out, and we never bought his farm produce…

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The shower tree

Little Bear is pretty well equipped, with four walls, a roof, a tree for hanging your solar shower, and – luxury – an outhouse. Happily, the outhouse was under a near full moon during our most recent stay, more practical than poetic, the extra moonlight something to be thankful for in the wee small hours.

There you have it, a series of happy memories and recent highlights, connected and prompted by reading Walt’s poetry. If you have the time, pay a visit to Rivertop Rambles and read Walt’s excellent blog (and find links to where you can get hold of a copy of Earthstars and other published works – go on, you’ll be glad you did!)

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and have a wonderful weekend!

Looking forward, looking back…

For many involved in education, this time of year is about beginnings; a new school year and all the excitement and promise that goes with having a new set of students. Fall is fast approaching, and summer is fading. It’s all about planning for the fresh academic year, being ready with spruced up lessons and wonderful ideas to activate learning. Something like that, anyway.

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Fresh

The other day, I found myself sitting at my desk, in my empty classroom (the students were due to arrive in another couple of days), making a few final adjustments to some “start the year” type activities. Jotted down some hoary old bits and pieces to share with the new arrivals, along the lines of making a good first impression (but give your teacher, Mr PC, some slack – he is happy to see you, but he smiles on the inside…), make a good second impression if the first one didn’t go so well, and it’ll all be fine as the year progresses. The steady drip, drip, drip of encouragement. So, very much in looking forward mode. Yet, I’m not quite ready to let go of summer…

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Drip, drip, drip

Don’t tell the principal, but I ended up using a few minutes of that planning time to make a note or two about our summer adventures. We had a splendid summer, fortunate to be able to visit the UK, and spend time with family and friends – this was an absolute highlight. Still, banging on about close friends and family that other people don’t know isn’t necessarily a recipe for an enthralling blog post. So I’ll spare you those details and, over the next couple of posts, share one or two other highlights instead. Not that these will necessarily be enthralling, but I’ll do my best (as I like to say to students) and these are what came to mind, what I scribbled down in the quiet of the classroom:

dscf3068Let’s start with sitting outside the Tofino Botanical Gardens Darwin Cafe, taking shelter from a heavier period of rain, and drinking an excellent cup of coffee whilst leafing through old editions of The New Yorker magazine. Really, PlaidCamper? Yes, really! It’s not always all action outdoor pursuits for the PlaidCampers, you know! Who am I kidding? If you’ve read even only one or two of the posts here, you’re already very aware that it’s rarely all action outdoor pursuits for the PlaidCampers. I imagine high octane all action adventure must be exhausting. It certainly seems it. Hence the coffee, gentle rain, beautiful plants, and magazines.

dscf2759I must admit, I’d never read a copy of The New Yorker before picking one at random from the pile. Talk about a lucky dip! This particular edition had a new short story by Ian McEwan, and I’ve always enjoyed his novels. The short story, My Purple Scented Novel, was an absolute gem. In his tale of rivalry, professional jealousy, and betrayal between two writers, McEwan constructs a devious, gripping, and (suspend your disbelief) plausible account of a relationship that twists and turns from the first to the last paragraph. I loved it, and loved it again when I reread it prior to writing this post.

The Tofino Botanical Gardens, a cup of great coffee, and an enjoyable short story. All these elements combined on that damp Tuesday afternoon to produce a happy summer highlight. I think back to that, and I smile (on the inside…)

dscf2755I can’t transport you to Tofino, and I can’t share a cup of coffee with you, although I’d love to, but I can give you the link to McEwan’s story:

My Purple Scented Novel

 

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Boats, floating

If nothing else, this was a great excuse to look back at some West Coast photographs from the summer! If this didn’t float your boat, be warned, because I’ll write about some other highlights in the next post or two.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to leave a comment or share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!

“A disappearance is in order…”

We’ve been spending the week at Little Bear cabin, Montana, disappearing for a while. Our days have been fast paced; books, small wanderings, sitting, books, sitting some more, and maybe a beer by the fire. Maybe.

One book I’ve really enjoyed is “Canoe Country” by Roy MacGregor. It’s a delightful account where MacGregor argues the canoe made Canada, and his argument is supported with tales and anecdotes about well known and less well known paddlers in Canadian history. If you’re even slightly intrigued by the canoe, you’ll like the book. Sitting outside a cabin up a mountain, it was like catnip for an old PlaidCamper. Mrs PC has been right to point out we have nowhere to store a canoe…

In a book full of memorable passages and quotes, here is one MacGregor uses that particularly appealed:

Every so often a disappearance is in order. A vanishing. A checking out. An indeterminate period of unavailability. Each person, each sane person, maintains a refuge, or series of refuges, for this purpose. A place or places, where they can, figuratively if not literally, suspend their membership in the human race.”  (John A. Murray, Colorado naturalist)

Most of the time, being a member of the human race is just fine, and I maintain that most people are well intentioned and propose no ill will to their fellows. However, the weight of bad news headlines prefacing endless appalling atrocities and scandals are apparently the only stories worth telling, and this can take a toll. Thank goodness for Little Bear, and all the other natural refuges available to those lucky enough to reach them. And perhaps there’s still time this summer, for those so inclined, to find a new place or two – maybe even traveling there by canoe…(don’t worry, Mrs PC, we’ll rent it!)

Thanks for reading, and have an enjoyable weekend!

Hills, thrills, and tender tales…

…enough to make an urban hiker happy in a big city!

First off, I have to make a full and frank confession, and a big thank you. We didn’t actually walk to all of the places photographed in this post. One day we were lucky enough to be given a car tour around the various neighbourhoods of San Francisco, with an emphasis on looking in from the edges. A huge thank you to Jet Eliot for this wonderful overview of a fascinating city – a memorable day out!

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Overview!
I have to say, I think you could live for years in SF and never get to grips with all the stories and possibilities it has to offer. It is a mass – and mess – of contradictions, in the best possible way. I’ve been struggling with figuring out how to convey our visit in a short blog post and, to be honest, concluded that I can’t. It’ll have to be several parts posted intermittently over the next while or so, but not week on week. So bear with me (if you’re still here!) and my next confession is that I’ve decided to pretty much use the unedited notes I jotted down there each evening – I do promise I spellchecked most of it. If it is a little incoherent or disconnected, never mind, let’s say that might also be true of parts of SF…

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A hardboiled apartment building (huh?)
All this talk of confessions, promises, and being honest, why, it’s like I’m wishing I could write a hardboiled detective mystery. Well now, we didn’t know before arrival, but it turned out we were staying in the same apartment building Dashiell Hammett lived in for a while.

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You should read this, I tell ya!
Once I found this out, I immediately got hold of a copy of The Maltese Falcon, and it was quite the thrill to be reading and recognizing some of the place names in the book, to be treading those same mean streets, let me tell ya, sister. (Hmm, best leave it to writers of detective fiction…)IMG_20160322_155813

The streets of San Francisco (really, PlaidCamper?) can be tough, like many big cities. Our exchange with a cab driver upon arrival:

Me: Hi there! (Ooh, the air is warm!) San Loretto Apartments, Nob Hill please.

Jamal: That’s near the Tenderloin! Do you know the Tenderloin? Don’t go to the Tenderloin after dark. There are prostitutes, drug dealers, and other criminals. It’s not Canada!

Me: How close is our apartment to the Tenderloin?

Jamal: Not far! Don’t go down the hill towards the Tenderloin. It’s not Canada. I like driving. I once drove to Toronto to visit my sister and her baby. Took me two weeks, there and back, with three days in Toronto. Stay away from the Tenderloin. I deliver cars. I like driving. California, Utah, Wyoming and Montana. Delivered from Africa. This is the Tenderloin! I won’t stop, don’t worry. Maybe you could visit here in the day, but not after dark. See the people?”

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Not Jamal’s taxi – but he would have loved this car. He liked driving.
Not wishing to taint Jamal’s vision of Canada as a crime-free northern Utopia, we agreed the Tenderloin wasn’t like Canada. Anyway, as Jamal slowed down but didn’t stop, we did see the people, and they might have been up to less than good. We didn’t visit later, not even during the day, not even out of curiosity. Perhaps another time. For a detailed description of the Tenderloin, you could read chapter two of Gary Kamiya’s Cool Gray City of Love. Actually, read all of it, it’s a splendid book, and that chapter makes for a wonderful introduction to the colourful history of the Tenderloin. As Kamiya puts it a “radioactive core of junkies, drunks, transvestites, dealers, thugs, madmen, hustlers, derelicts, prostitutes, and lowlifes”…so, not all bad then.

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A good read!
Each evening after dark, I did enjoy sitting at a small corner table in our rented apartment, wedged in between two windows, taking notes as the sounds of a different city drifted up. We live in a big – for Canada – city, close to the downtown, with an evening soundtrack of sirens, trams, and big city noises. It was the same but different in SF. The apartment block is on an intersection between Sacramento and Leavenworth, so reasonably busy. The sirens were more frequent, the clanking cable cars almost musical, the streets more populated later into the night, and the air warmer, with pedestrians strolling less hurriedly than the brisk, let’s-fight-the-chill-air speed walk we have in Calgary. It was fun to hear the bursts of laughter, and snatches of conversation as passersby came and went.

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Part of the city soundtrack – almost musical
I’ll leave it here for now. As I said near the start, this is the first of a somewhat jumbled series of posts about SF. It’s a beguiling city, and the fun here is in writing and attempting to make some sense of it. More to follow later…DSCF2141

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to make a comment or share a San Francisco story or book recommendation!

 

 

Chopping, stacking, and drying

Reading a book about firewood whilst sitting by a wood stove is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two. Especially when you are feeling sorry for yourself (I was) because some lovely student was overly generous with their germs. Fortunately for Mrs PlaidCamper, I suffered in stoic silence. Not true, I was simply engaged in the book she gave me, and it has certainly confirmed my almost outdoorsman status. Still so much to learn!

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A good read
If you can get hold of a copy, you might like to read “Norwegian Wood – chopping, stacking, and drying wood the Scandinavian way” by Lars Mytting. I know, sounds a bit nerdy, yet this slim volume is quite wonderful, and strangely heartfelt, given the title. The approach is sometimes scientific, sometimes mathematical, but the overall effect is lyrical and philosophical. Apparently, the book has been a bit of a hit, striking a chord – a cord? – with a wide audience. Could it be that some are crying out for a simpler life? Maybe. It kept me quiet for a while.

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Keeping warm
To the book. Until relatively recently, almost all humans have warmed themselves with fire, and the primary fuel was wood. This necessitated a set of skills and knowledge fundamentally attached to being outdoors. In many places, the need for these skills has diminished in the last 60 years, with the development of other heating and energy sources. Perhaps more of us need to rediscover the skills and possibilities of wood for a fuel. Mytting’s book explores our changing relationship with firewood through pictures, poetry, history, and anecdotes that delight and engage. (If you don’t have a tear in your eye after finishing old Ottar’s story – his woodpile tale bookends it all – I’d be amazed, and you’d be cold…)

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Woodpile tales
Mytting details how wood grown for heating can be one part of a national energy plan. It isn’t a magic bullet, but he is persuasive on how burning wood is comparatively environmentally friendly. Modern stoves are very efficient, and there are regions where wood growth supply can outstrip demand. It can’t work everywhere, but the ideas are intriguing. Large (or small) scale tree farms seem preferable to large scale power stations, nuclear plants, hydroelectric projects, and all the associated infrastructure required to deliver the energy. It’s not romantic or beautiful like an old growth forest, but it is clean. And no, I’m not advocating mass logging/deforestation to heat our homes.

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Wood stove detail
The book isn’t all about national energy policy and planning, although the ideas presented are thought-provoking. Much of the book is more personal in nature. There’s an amusing foreword detailing the various types of wood chopper. Are you the stoic type? The neurotic hoarder? The poet? The standard bungler? How about desperado, melancholic or psychopath? If you’ve ever had to chop wood then you know there’s a little of each in all of us. Or if you’re me, quite a bit of the bungler.

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Dry
When we lived in the western Perigord, the downstairs of our house was heated by two wood burning stoves, one in the kitchen, and one in the living room. In winter, we’d live in the kitchen most of the day, let the stove burn low, and then dash to the front room for the evening. Those stoves were efficient! If only I’d been as efficient. 

The first autumn/winter, I enjoyed stacking the delivered firewood and chain sawing and chopping through the colder months. Manly work! Wielding dangerous equipment with purpose, skill, and aplomb. Or so I thought in my happier moments. The truth was, the novelty wore off by the end of each winter, and the enthusiasm didn’t really return with the next wood delivery the following September. I quite enjoyed the sense of purpose and productivity, but sometimes it seemed endless.

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To be wielded with purpose (and care)
Having a ton of logs dropped onto your front yard on a sweltering September day isn’t too bad. Not when your Dad and brother are visiting, and likely to help shift and stack it. Except they suddenly developed all manner of ailments and a pressing need to prop up the local bar…hmm. I know, firewood is great. It warms you three times – chopping, stacking and burning. My planning (and help) was all wrong!

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Where did the helpers go?
Having read Mytting, I know now that I should have received the delivery in spring, and then split and stacked the wood to get it dry over the summer – in artfully and scientifically arranged woodpiles (you’ll admire the many photographs of woodpiles Mytting has included. No, really, you will!) I honestly hadn’t given much thought to storing the wood. I was pleased enough to have arranged to get any at all given my terrible schoolboy French. Still, once you have it, all firewood burns the same, doesn’t it? Wrong again, PlaidCamper. See Mytting. I was the bungler, making mistakes that would get a seasoned Scandinavian feller hot under the collar. Although I have to say my homemade sawhorse was a thing of beauty – or perhaps splendid utility over beauty, but I promise you, it worked. Mind you, I never took a photograph (or patented the “design”…)

On to the hardware. If you read it, and you don’t already have them, you’ll be off looking at chain saws and axes (even if you don’t need one, or is that just me?) Axes! The names in the book are poetry: Oyo, Hultafors, Gransfors, Wetterlings, Fiskars and Vipukirves.

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A little cabin…
“Norwegian Wood” made me miss my wood chopping days. It would have been wonderful to have had some of the knowledge and skills back then. Still, as an almost outdoorsman who generally prefers to look forward, I now feel better prepared than ever, and maybe one day in the future I’ll be back in regular wood chopping action, heating a little cabin and getting it all done the Scandinavian way!

I’ll finish with a quote about the smell of a woodpile Mytting recites from Hans Borli’s “With Axe and Lyre”:

“It is as though life itself passes by, barefoot, with dew in its hair…When the veil finally starts to fall, the scent of fresh wood is among the things that will linger longest…”

Thanks for reading! Are you a chopper of wood? If so, what type are you? Please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.