It was a beautiful morning, a perfect day to be outside enjoying the crisp air, the deep blue skies, and the fall colors. Taking deep breaths, we could savor the aromas of October in the Black Hills: charred wood, gasoline, and sawdust.
The deep breaths were a necessity, because we were working hard. With propane prices around two bucks a gallon, we needed wood to keep the Fischer stove in the basement going all winter. Some friends needed to get rid of fire-killed trees on their property. In an attempt to meet both of these needs at once, we were out in the woods like a quartet of Paul Bunyan wannabes.
At least the two of us (male) who were using chainsaws might have been trying to be Paul Bunyan. The two of us (female) who were hauling 12-foot logs to the trailer felt more like Babe the Blue Ox.
Not sexism, just a matter of relative experience and upper body strength. Besides, I wasn’t complaining. I’m perfectly happy to keep my fingers—all ten of them, perfectly intact, thank you—away from tools that are capable of taking off human appendages in one swipe.
So I was fine being half of the log-carrying team, despite the fact that the only place level enough to park the trailer was at the top of the hill. This meant lugging most of the logs uphill, huffing and puffing under their weight like the Little Engine That Wasn’t Quite Sure It Could.
Handling charred wood isn’t the cleanest of tasks, so we were all outfitted in old clothes, boots, and leather gloves. I had on a pair of hand-me-down camouflage coveralls originally worn by my tallest brother-in-law. They fit well enough, except where the crotch was a little baggy around my knees.
In addition to keeping most of the dirt on the outside, the coveralls served as some protection from the tall, spiky weeds that were creating their own miniature forest among the burned trees. Based on my extensive research (looking in two “flowers of North America” guidebooks and spending 7 minutes on the Internet), I think they were common mullein.
On one website, I found them under the heading, “Least Wanted.” After tromping for several hours through mulleins standing higher than my head, I quite agree.
Each woody spike was topped with scores of seeds eager to attach themselves to the clothes of any woodcutter who came too close. Think watermelon seeds covered with Velcro. In case anyone should ever need to know, straddling a mullein plant while carrying a heavy log uphill is an effective but slightly uncomfortable way to strip off a whole lot of seeds at once.
By mid-afternoon, we were worn out. One of the saws had gone through two chains and was out of action. We were coated with enough charcoal to grill a hamburger and enough mullein seeds to plant a quarter section. We were also beginning to realize that our shaky knees and battered biceps probably felt a lot better than they were going to feel the next morning.
But we had a load of logs securely strapped to the trailer. Two more loads were stacked and ready to be hauled. None of the trees had fallen on us, the fence, the cars, the trailer, or the dog. We still had all 80 of the fingers and toes we had started out with. We'd had fun. All in all, a successful day.
There’s an old saying that wood is fuel that warms you twice, once when you cut it and once when you burn it. I’ve never fully appreciated that statement until now.
How much was that propane price again?