Gathering and using firewood is a family ritual. As children, we would set aside a weekend to cut and split firewood for the winter.
Inevitably, it would be the hottest day of the year.
No worries - because we would have lots of iced tea to drink and the lure of great food, including pies that my mom would prepare.
Being the youngest - and the only girl in a large family - my job started out as the wood splitter operator. I only had to pull the lever to split the wood and then again to retract the wedge.
I didn't get too warm with this job back then. But as all things change, so did the job.
Today my job begins with walking and locating trees that are dead and or dying on our little plot of land. This is done before fall when the health of the tree is more visible.
Usually the tree is then marked with paint so I can remember which one to cut when the time allows many months later. It is a brisk walk, doesn't feel like work and I feel the warmth from the exercise.
Over the winter months, I gather up all the safety gear - chaps, hard hat, gloves and helmet with ear protection - and start the saw. It is time to cut down the trees.
This sounds simple but, to me, it is not so easy. Trying to drop the trees in a spot so there is no brush to move is paramount.
If I don't get it hung-up, I then saw it to fit in the stove. I almost always have a piece left over that is way small or too big. Oh, well, it still burns even if it is in the outside fire pit.
Before I stop for the day, I throw the pieces into the trailer and haul them to a location near where I will split it. I throw it into a pile until later. I am once again warm. No, I am hot and exhausted.
Later in the spring when I split the wood, I smile, remembering my beginnings as a wood splitter operator. I haul the wood to the splitter, split it and then stack it. Once again, I am hot, sweaty and tired.
The wood dries for almost a year and a half under old tin roofing. As the temperatures drop, I head to the stacked firewood and once again load it into the trailer, haul it to the basement door and slide it down a board into the basement.
Once inside, I pick it up and stack it by the woodstove. I am hot once again.
The process of obtaining firewood has warmed me at least five times with each load of firewood - a great return on an investment. Then, finally, it warms the house. It is a wonderful warmth, filled with hard work and good memories.
Wambaugh is a district forester with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and is based at Elk State Forest in Emporium. She may be reached at 814-486-3353.