Wednesday, October 17, 2007


THE WILD WORKS FAST


About half the wood I've been splitting lately is oak and half is wild cherry, thinned by the new owner of a pre-existing house upmountain that during the past decade had gotten overgrown to the extent of disappearing. The wild works fast up here. I had so much wood from that thinning that I couldn't buck/split/stack it fast enough while earning an income and having a life at the same time, so the last of it got wet from the intervening rains. You don't have long, after that. I managed to get most of the remnant split before it soaked up too much water, but now I'm down to the last few logs and I can see the difference a month makes.

The oak, if it spends too long in the open (even if covered sitting on the ground), dense as it is, nevertheless acts like a friendly sponge and soon is completely permeated by fungal mycelium, which beyond a certain point never really dries out to the original oaken qualities. If 'dry' it will burn, but only half-heartedly, having been moisturized/mineralized by the fungus. As it is now, I can strip the bark on many of the bigger oak logs and split them, and they'll still dry to a good hard firewood (about half of the remnant, ca. 1% of the whole wood load; as to the other half (smaller limbs), it's too late; they're fertilizer and mulch). For all its hardness, oak goes bad in a hurry.

The wild cherry, on the other hand, a much softer, lighter wood, is practically impervious to rot. It can lay there in the open for a long time and lose nothing but the bark. It has a thick cambium layer, up to a quarter inch when swelled with rain, providing conditions ideal for all sorts of wood beetle larvae, for whom it is a few months in Phuket while they discover who they really are.

When I split the wet-barked cherry logs at last, I have to debark each section, then scrape off the damp spongy layer (sort of like fibrous chocolate) so the wood can dry. You can't dry wood wrapped in a wet blanket. When I remove the bark (which can be a chore, but it's worth it, for cherry firewood) the fat and sassy larvae lolling here and there in the rich cambium are stunned by the sudden removal of their rightful roof and by the shocking light, whatever that is; they look up from their ruptured paradise in pale, distraught disbelief, staring around at the incomprehensible change, rudely awakened to a new and unwelcome reality: "I thought I had more months on this lease, at least until next spring... This log was my birthright, I tell you; I inherited this property..." but as soon as they perceive that I and my scraper are serious, they bail. Right onto the growing pile of wet bark on the ground, where perhaps they'll manage to dine and carry on... It's either a cold autumn for them or a cold winter for me...

Dr. Crow seems interested in the plight of these succulent creatures as well: "Say, Bob, you gonna do anything with those rare delicacies?" he warbles unctuously, honing his beak on the phone wire...


5 comments:

Joy Des Jardins said...

Much better a cold autumn for those sassy larvae than a cold winter for you Bob. Besides if Dr. Crow has anything to say about it...they won't even have to worry about the cold autumn.

Bob Brady said...

He should put on some natural fat for the winter anyway, is my thought...

Mary Lou said...

Yep, Dr. Crow is an entpreneur of the first rate. His relatives over here, even know just which color garbage bags have the best menu!

Martin J Frid said...

How about growing some shiitake on those oak logs...? That could be a nice line of work too. Drill some holes, add the seedlings, and wait until harvest. We did that in Okayama, seems it is possible in most places in Japan.

Bob Brady said...

Yes, Martin; I've been growing shiitake up here for a dozen years now (shiitake logs selected first, from among the scavenged firewood), and really enjoy the ones the monkeys don't get to first!