Autumn Logs

I can’t believe it: I’m about to write a blog on logs. Next, I can hear you saying through clenched teeth, he’ll be giving us a post on toast. Or a contribution on … oh no, that won’t work. Start again: this one’ll be about logs.

Recently there have been some dire forecasts on the weather. We’ve been given amber warnings about impending rain – although I can’t see why they should name an alert after that wonderful stuff they used to make beads out of in the early Bronze Age. It’s actually fossilised pine resin, sometimes complete with Pleistocene flies. Fabulous stuff, translucent and gorgeous, although some of the amber I’ve excavated had gone rather cloudy. Myself, I’d have chosen something altogether different: maybe diamond for the severest warning, followed by gold, silver and jade. So under the new Pryor system we’ve all been given a jade – or was it silver? – heads-up about rain. But to return to my theme, that’s why I’ve been cutting up logs.

Of course logs don’t prevent rain – that would be silly. I can just image people in late medieval Venice, about to be swamped by rising waters out in the canals, sending out their servants, children and grand-children with saws and axes to cut yet more logs to avert catastrophe. As I said, silly thought. No, I was cutting logs because the impending rain shows that the season has changed. Six days ago (on September 22nd to be precise) we began the astronomical autumn. Personally I prefer the meteorological start date for the season: September 1st. But again, it’s a matter of personal preference. So by both measures we’re now into autumn and it’s high time I was cutting logs.

I felled the trees that gave us these logs in February 2010, so they should be good and dry by now. And in case anyone feels like turning all knee-jerk green and telling me I shouldn’t be felling trees, I would remind them that woodlands are there to be managed, harvested and used. So far I’ve planted 5,000 trees and they’re only prospering because I keep the plantation in order. Over-crowded trees tend to grow tall and spindly; then along comes a gale and they all fall down. But a properly managed wood will have stouter tree trunks, better able to withstand high winds. That’s what I’m trying to achieve: stouter trunks. And as a spin-off I also keep our house nice and warm. Besides, I’d rather burn wood than fossil fuel.

For me cutting logs marks the changing of the season. Out comes the chainsaw and for a couple of hours I can cut enough logs to see us through to December, when I’ll have a really serious day in the barn and try to cut enough to last me right through the winter. I do the December cut before the sheep come in, as they don’t enjoy the chainsaw noise much, and being heavily in-lamb their wishes have to be respected. Last year the cold, then the wet meant I had to do a third logging session in March, but out in the yard well away from the animals.

Logging also keeps me in touch with the world we live in. I’d hate my heat to come from just one source, in effect, for many people, a thermostat on the wall. All you do is pay the bills and of course you’ve surrendered all control: you’re now in the arms of the power companies, God help you. The same applies to the food I eat.  My vegetables may not always be perfect and they vary a lot from year to year, but certain tasks are unavoidable, like (for me) digging, weeding and, of course, planting. And already I’ve planted next year’s early garlic, shallots and over-wintering onions. Next month I’ll turn the ground over for the potatoes which will go in before the end of March. For gardeners and country people, autumn is a busy time of year.

To be quite frank, I prefer cold, wet weather to summer heat. But the plastic perfect people, who inhabit our TV screens these days, seem to assume that we all crave unbroken sunshine. ‘No we don’t!’ I yell, as I hurl my foam rubber brick at the set: ‘If I wanted that sort of weather I’d live in the Mojave Desert or the bloody Costas!!!’  But seriously, I enjoy the variation of the seasons, which is one of the reasons I love the English climate: it changes, but never with unseemly haste. When I lived in Canada the transition from summer to winter seemed to happen with break-neck speed, which of course is why the Fall out there (and in New England) is so incredibly spectacular. When those leaves, especially Virginia Creeper and Canadian Maple, start to turn, believe me it can be fast: one day they’re green, next amber, then red…


Half-way through logging in the barn, September 2012

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