Monday, September 26, 2005


SPLITTING CAMPHOR


Out this afternoon splitting the remnant firewood. Finished the last sections of oak, the air was cool and blue, still full of light, still some room in the wheelbarrow and on the rising woodpile, so I thought maybe I'd have a go at the 18" diameter sections of camphor wood I'd cut in early spring.

The camphor had thus been stacked uncovered in the mountain weather for about 6 months. A piece of oak that had been so would by now be housing ants, beetles, larvae and fungi beneath its rotting bark and within its decaying trunk; the camphor wood was pristine. I peeled off the bark; underneath, there was nothing but sleek wood.

It had been laying there ever since I'd cut it because I'd learned how maddeningly unsplittable is camphorwood, as passively resistant to man as to insects; oak is much more a labor of love. Still, with the sun and the air and the wind the way they were, I felt that on a day like this I could withstand quite a bit of maddening; besides, it was a shame to waste that good wood, so I picked up a section, set it on the stump, introduced the wedge and began trying.

True to the old form I'd experienced with the newly cut camphorwood, the wedge just sank in slowly, the wood giving way only minimally, showing no signs of splitting. Before long I was on the verge of working for 15 minutes more to at least get the damn wedge out of there and then throwing the section back on the pile to later maybe chainsaw into camphor cookies or something for the woodstove (camphor is densely sidegrained throughout, moreso than any other wood I can think of; it's like splitting a log made by compressing a pile of toothpicks), when a cracking sound began.

With the sound came a fragrance, the soul of the essence of camphor. Now that the wedge was in to a certain point the log was beginning to surrender, yielding that gift into the bargain. I just stood there and listened, sniffing deeply, as the log split slowly by itself. When at last I had it apart, it was apparent that the log had been drying out despite how it seemed from the outside; the outer inches were gray and dry, but there in the center was a moist, fragrant, viable section to which all the perfume had withdrawn, and now that scent was loosed on the air, in a constant stream that held me there, living in my nose.

So if you have some camphor wood, dry it for a few months in some mountain winds before splitting it, and be ready for the gift.

6 comments:

Mary Lou said...

Well No Camphor in my woods! just alder fir and hemlock and maple.
Pity that.

Robert Brady said...

Maple? Lucky you!!

Tabor said...

Oh, if only I had some camphor wood....I can hardly wait until the house is done and we get that woodstove going.

Robert Brady said...

Nothing warms you in winter like a good woodstove...

Dalene said...

I, too, like Mary Lou, am here in the Pacific Northwest, where the land gifts us with Red Cedar, Fir, Alder, Maple and Hemlock. Maple is my favorite for both quick and lasting warmth. Fir and Alder will burn too fast. Hemlock, well, not fond of it at all, the energy of it makes me uneasy, and I have had to wrestle with it to have it be consistent. It makes me too sad to see a Cedar come down, so I take no pleasure in seeing cedar stacked anywhere. The camphor interests me, and I wonder if when burning it for warmth, it will not also fill your home with the healing properties of camphor? That would be nice. The first thing I thought was that camphor is one of the ingredients in the infamous Four Thieves Vinegar, protector from the middle ages black death.

Robert Brady said...

It's also that magic childhood scent for me, at the heart of "Vicks Vaporub," but much better on its own in the heart of the wood... When I put it in the stove this winter, I'll see if it gives off the scent while it burns (I already know that if I put a piece on TOP of the warm stove, it will fill the house with that wondrous scent)...