|Strawberry Crater Wilderness Area, Arizona|
I dragged my big-city first wife deep into the forest to live in an unfinished “cabin” and she immediately began to weep. Quickly I began gathering twigs, scrap lumber, anything that would burn. Not to torch the place, but for the wood stove, to warm her heart and dry her tears. Thus began a long saga of scrounging wood.
Boy Scouts and family camping trips had taught me fire. A couple years working “in the woods” had taught me about the care and feeding of chain saws, the trees of Arizona, and the inherent laziness of ‘professional’ wood-cutters. Still, keeping that place warm seemed to consume every spare minute.
|Parking lot at Sunset Crater National Monument, Arizona|
Woodcutters leave knots, stumps, and smaller limb-ends, and they skip steep slopes altogether. I’d thrash uphill through juniper, manzanita, pinon pine, and scrub oak, then drag and heave future fires down to the trunk of my gigantic (455 V8!) lime Buick.
When my beat-up chain saw failed, lacking money for parts I broke limbs using rocks and physics, caveman style, and mauled stumps. Sometimes the weather almost won--wet sticks would be drying by the fire for the next fire.
|Chasm Creek, Arizona|
Eventually I got to know one woodcutter well enough to work for him. We’d be out before sunrise, back and unloaded before U. S. Forest Circus officials poured their second cup of coffee. He was thus able to get about 40 cords of wood on an eight-cord permit. Not very legal but perhaps less immoral than letting your family freeze. I was usually paid in misshapen pieces rich people don’t want.
|Perkinsville Bridge, Arizona|
I rejoined fools and family in the city a while, where heat is from burning fossils, nuclear fission, and damned dams, payable only in cash. Bizarre concepts, but a welcome break from scrounging wood. Then back out of Babylon to the high desert boondocks, bought my first and only house, with...guess which type of heating?
Electric. But also a wood stove. I could pay about $300 a month to a bloated quasi-government bureaucracy for coal fire sent by copper wire, or pay nothing if I was willing to resume scrounging wood. So I did.
Without a handy nearby forest, I snagged scrap lumber from construction sites, broken pallets behind businesses, yard trimmings dumped off back roads, busted furniture, any burnable free object. When desperate I drove into distant juniper-dotted hills in the late afternoon, and brought back a pile of--what else?--woodcutter rejects, while government enforcers sat down to supper.
|These were already cut up, but I couldn't lift 'em. @ Petrified Forest NP|
At first my young sons were easily convinced it was fun to help scrounge wood, until, with the sudden wisdom of teens, they decided it wasn’t. Even so, after kicking and screaming briefly, they learned other critical skills: how to avoid work, how to pretend to work, how to maintain a Zen-like demeanor when cranky cheap Dad forces you to do stupid work, and in the end, how to, actually, work.
|This looks like fun, right?|
I also learned: diplomacy and psychological trickery, from being outnumbered four to one by bigger/smarter sons. Dudine has very little left to learn, but she did acquire additional dirt forbearance, a gift with which she has already been considerably blessed, both by nature and by riding herd on said sons.
|Strawberry Crater, heavy traffic near housing sector|
Winter visitors are surprised at how warm the stove keeps the joint. (Too warm sometimes, snow swirling through windows opened for a gasp of cool air.) “Quaint...homey...how pretty,” they say. I agree, then smash the fantasy with a litany of bugs, filth, choking on smoke, burns of hair and skin and stuff, shoveling ashes (and nails), teetering on the roof rattling chain in the stovepipe to clean it, and cold-arse nights when I sleep too long and the fire goes out.
Kids grown and gone, I scrounge alone again, always one eye open for scrap sticks. Still directly trading my own energy for household warmth. Ancient technology at prehistoric prices, a blob of spit in PowerCo’s unseeing corporate eyeball, and a perfect excuse to wander wherever trees breathe. Fire: warming hearts and drying tears since 68,000 BC!
|Strawberry Crater Wilderness Area|
“It used to be that any difficulty of [military] assignment could be taken care of under the sheltering umbrella of Duty, Honor, Country. As long as you had a casus belli like the Maine or the Alamo you could get through any dubious expedition without agony. The West Point formula may no longer suffice. Country is clear enough, but what is Duty in a wrong war? What is Honor when fighting is reduced to “wasting” the living space—not to mention the lives—of a people that never did us any harm? The simple West Point answer is that Duty and Honor consist in carrying out the orders of the government. That is what the Nazis said in their defense, and we tried them for war crimes nevertheless….
“When fighting reaches the classic formula recently voiced by a soldier in the act of setting fire to a hamlet in Vietnam, “We must destroy it in order to save it,” one must go further than duty and honor and ask, “Where is the common sense?””
--Barbara Tuchman (1912-1989), from an address to the U. S. Army War College, April 1971, reprinted in Practicing History, a selection of her essays.