Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

Felled like Firewood

Jack and I wanted a wood stove. Our friends Randy and Lisa spotted the perfect wee one at a clearance sale at our local farm store. One hour later, Jack and I were arguing over whether to put it in the house or in our historic jail outbuilding. (Keep you posted.) The recreational value of a lovely evening fire, so cozy, so romantic. We looked forward to these intimate evenings.

This is what it is supposed to look like

Which meant it was time to gather the firewood. You get it in the early spring and let it dry over the year so it can be used next year. Friends who had stopped using their fireplace offered us their woodpile, already cured. A great kindness! We fetched the first half of that, and I googled “how to stack a woodpile.” The result came out similar to a drunken beaver building a bachelor pad, but I was proud of it.

We then began to notice how many people were advertising free firewood online, come and cut it. Woot! Free wood??!! Steep learning curve followed. In return for one of Jack’s famous curry dinners, Randy came with a maul to show us how to split up pieces I first collected from such an advert. They proved too big to go into the stove. After splitting several pieces of the elm I had collected, which is pretty hard to split, he brought a bit of white pine over and had us give it a go.

Mauls will bounce, did you know that? Also, aim is an acquired skill. The third time, I actually hit the wood. I hit it again and again, in a new place each chop, for nine more tries. Jack… we won’t talk about that. The bleeding stopped almost immediately.

“There is a reason people advertise free firewood if you cut and haul it yourself,” Randy said as he finished up the plausible logs with his maul. “People–WHACK–don’t want–WHOMP–to pay–THUD–for someone–KERCHUNK–to haul it–WHACK–away.”

Got it. Next idea, a recently divorced friend is gathering her firewood now too and we decided to share the ride and the chainsaw and have fun doing it together. First ride out to a town about twenty minutes away, she continued Randy’s lesson about wood we wanted and wood we didn’t: locust good, white pine, bad.

We arrived at a house that turned out to be fairly amazing. Hoarders, is the word. The trailer windows were blocked with stuff piled high. It took fifteen minutes to find the woodpile under a boat at the edge of a bamboo patch (they told us they wouldn’t be home, just help ourselves). I had carried about half of it to the car when Dawn said, “This is white pine. You don’t want to burn this inside. Too hot and fast. It will make kindling, though.”

Kindling, like chop it up with an ax or maul? Aloud I said, “Well, I can figure it out.” Is my insurance policy up to date? Can I bribe Randy with double curry?

As we turned around with a last load, a man stood there. He didn’t say anything.

“We at the right house?” I smiled, prepared to drop everything and run.

He nodded. “Take it all. Don’t leave none.” He turned and went into the trailer.

We might have left some. It felt a bit film noir, all of a sudden.

Next morning, I woke up sneezing, eyes nearly swollen shut, unable to breathe through my nose. I have rarely in my life suffered from allergies, but apparently 2021 had plans for most of the population; lots of people who don’t normally have them are. Three lost days later, I was still taking every over the counter thing that offered relief, and downing herbal supplements. I don’t remember much else, except our friend Nora dropped by.

“You know, people sell firewood,” Nora said, eyeing me from across the room as I projectile sneezed. “It’s not that expensive. I have mine delivered. It’s not, like, a moral failing to not gather your own.”

What could be nicer than a wood stove’s lovely fire on a winter’s evening? Dialing a local supplier and watching them stack locust behind your shed.

(Addendum: Dawn and I are going to cut chestnut behind her house this week. She has a chainsaw. I have a mask and allergy meds. What could possibly go wrong?)


Filed under folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Wendy Welch

A Steep Learning Curve

It’s Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

For twenty five years I was both a professional educator and a learner.

Lauder College, Dunfermline.

When I undertook teacher training in Glasgow some of our lectures concerned the difference between education and learning. Others encouraged us to examine to whom we were responsible – I was paid by the Scottish Government, most students were teenagers but some were mature. Many attended part-time because they were employees of local businesses. To whom did we owe our responsibility? Government, parents, employers or the students?

I progressed from lowly part-time house painting instructor to head of the construction trades department and, after a hard fought MBA, professor in management studies.

Through all this there was something that became a ‘buzz phrase’ – Life Long Learning.

I was an example because I was sent as part of my 6 year apprenticeship to the local college and found that they also ran evening classes where I finally got the qualifications I’d miserably failed at in school. The Scottish college system was an important second chance and eventually a life-long chance for me.

But – but – –

I realized that learning isn’t confined to the classroom. We all learn from the time we waken until we go back to bed at night. My students were learning in the bus on their way to the college, as they walked up the corridor, in the canteen at lunchtime, at the nightclub in the evening and at the soccer game on Saturday.

I also found that I wasn’t just teaching a curriculum. I was setting an example and being a role model. I remembered, when I was an apprentice and attended the same college, that there was a young new lecturer. I was impressed by him – his knowledge, his skills and even the way he dressed. He was my role model!

It was much same for me at high school – it was the characterful teachers that I learned most from, and not necessarily their particular subject.

So I introduced two exchange programs – one with a college in Denmark and another with a college in Slovakia. Although the official focus was on environmental issues, the real purpose of both was to provide an opportunity for students to experience a completely different culture. The difference in all the participants on their return was remarkable. It most likely changed their lives and was a great example of learning outside the curriculum.

At the same time I was managing a number of experimental environmental education projects funded by the EU and working with partners all over Europe, as well as traveling there with my folk band ‘Heritage’. So my horizons were also widening and my learning continued.

It’s been almost twenty years since I retired from Lauder College but it changed my life in many ways and it still does!

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Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch