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Ed Quillen | Dec 11, 2008 09:12 AM

Heating with wood provides a paradox. The process provides a warm indoor fire, isolating you from the cold outdoors. And yet it makes you more connected to the outdoors.

Let it be noted that I use wood for supplemental heat, more or less. Our century-old house has a gas furnace, and while I'm glad it's there, I want to run it as little as possible.

Start with the wood. Some people cut their own, which puts them outdoors in the woods for many hours. I've never mastered the art of sharpening a chain saw -- or getting one to start reliably, for that matter -- so I get my firewood from a local builder who logs for house timbers, and sells the scraps.

When he delivers, the cordwood is "bucked" -- that is, cut to 16-inch stove length. Then I split it and pile it (many people neatly stack their wood, but neatness is not one of my core values).

Until this winter, I split my wood with a chopping block and an eight-pound maul. Age may or may not bring wisdom, but it does bring enough sore muscles to inspire the purchase of a small, quiet electric-powered hydraulic wood splitter.

It's faster and easier than the maul. But I still spend a lot of time with the wood as I split it, enjoying the chunky heft of piñon and the vanilla aroma of ponderosa, sometimes fretting about all the blue-stained beetle-killed pine. or wondering what kind of wood exudes so much sticky resin that it will capture my glove if I'm not mindful.

Keeping the stove fed in the winter means at least one trip outdoors every day to fill my "woodbarrow" -- the old wheelbarrow I use to haul firewood from the far back yard to the front porch. It's sort of like walking the dog; no matter now cold, snowy or windy it is out there, it's an outdoor chore that must be done.

And even when I'm settled with a good book near a hearty fire on a cold night, presumably oblivious to the world beyond my walls, the outdoors is a constant presence.

The colder it is outside, the more often I have to get up and feed the fire. The stronger the wind outside, the greater the draft inside, and the stove's air intake must be adjusted accordingly. Outdoor wind gusts produce eerie, almost ghostly, indoor sounds from the 30-year-old airtight stove, odd noises that sometimes startle even our two house cats, who are otherwise catatonic as they bask by the warmth.

So, if you want to stay connected with the great outdoors, just stay home by the fire.

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