by Mimi Hedl
Cooking and heating with wood, not a branch or twig on this three-acre homestead goes unnoticed. Often, in the growing seasons, I’ll set little bundles of fallen twigs out of the way of the mower, the wheel barrow or walks after dark, and lay them in crevices of nearby trees, to gather up and bundle later.
In the summer, I may light no fires in a day, or maybe one to cook the abundant vegetables for quick dinners. Often I’ll go out to a tree I know has dead limbs, and break enough dry branches to start that fire. No need to think about the future.
Once autumn arrives, I want hot food two or three times a day. I quickly gather all those twigs I’ve tucked away, tie them up, store them, (in the once hay barn, now general storage), keeping a half dozen on the summer kitchen for easy access. It becomes a daily chore. A chore as pleasant as weeding or shelling beans, my mind free to gather wool.
The summer kitchen now has baskets of twigs, branches and split kindling. It amuses folks who don’t burn wood. But those kindred spirits, who understand the art of building a fire, covet the finely split kindling that goes on the fire with the fascine. They’ll look at my bruised left-thumb-nail and smile knowingly, “Hurts, huh?”
Before the polar vortex touched down again, I went out to the edge of the Park where my helper, Mark, and I had pruned the Dolgo crab apple and the native plum. I had piles of branches we didn’t haul to the brush pile, branches I knew I’d convert to fagots once cold weather arrived.
It was a cold day, wind whistling across my face. I knelt on the ground, like a girl, and broke the branches off, putting them in a pile, then reducing those branches to twigs, and tying them up. As I worked, I remembered playing on the edge of a field in Superior, Wisconsin, by my best friend’s house. I had a stump I’d pound berries on, probably honeysuckle, and pretend I was an Indian princess, preparing for the winter. I’d break up twigs, because children do that sort of thing. The memory touched me. I still feel like that girl, granted with white hair, but the contact with the earth, a mindless activity, outside, with the elements, fills me with the same peace and joy I knew all those years ago.