by Nelson Holmes
Fall is my favorite time of year in Huerfano County: golden aspenglow, the deep red of the Scrub-oak thickets and clean, cool air that seems to resurrect an appreciation for life in even the leatheriest most care-worn heart. The only thing that makes the season bittersweet is, well; I heat with wood. Fall is nature’s reminder that soon the wind will howl, snow will fall, and, if I don’t want to freeze and be eaten by my pets, I must begin harvesting like a madman.
It is so easy, when living in a town or metropolis, to take heat for granted. Once a month you wince, pay the bill, and gas feeds flames that heat the air which a fan neatly circulates around your home. Other than coming from the middle-man whom we pay, we have no sense of, or connection to, the fuel which keeps us warm. The process becomes another of the many from which we are neatly abstracted, and everything runs with such a degree of efficiency that we become blissfully unaware. But when you harvest wood for heat the connection to your fuel becomes intimate. We begin with vague strategies; good locations spotted from roads and offers of standing-dead from friends. Chains are sharpened and axes honed, two stroke fuel is mixed and bar-oil is made to the ready. Old-growth Aspen stands and the hillsides punctuated with dead pinon become the lures which draws us. Our wood harvest may begin as an annoying necessity, but once our feet touch the soil and the breeze bolsters our spirit, we begin to press to our task with thanks and humility. What is a wonder to me, as I feed my stove, is that I remember each piece of wood. The sunset I watched after loading the Aspen in my trailer or the bitter taste of the Pinon sawdust. A slab might remind me of the sore muscles I felt after attacking a particularly stubborn stump with my axe or the strange beetle larvae that sought safety after I quartered his home. Each piece of fuel has been cut by me, split by me and, in many cases, had the bark stripped by my fingers. Each slab becomes a measure of warmth and as I feed my stove I do so with a solemn satisfaction.
I appreciate my winter warmth, from the cedar-chest smell of the Juniper to the oily orange dance of the Pinon flame. I can smell the Aspen from the smoke that wafts from my chimney and I love the piney smell of Ponderosa sawdust as it clings to my face and hair. And the woodstove becomes, again, the center of my home, not just another platform for clutter, but the physical embodiment of my shelter’s soul.