Harvesting Tranquility


When visitors ask what our main crop is on our little farm, they look a bit startled when I reply “wood.” They look even more startled when I say the reason wood is important to us is that it brings tranquility to our lives. In winter when an old man’s fancy turns to thoughts of staying warm, I am just about as happy to have a garage full of stove wood as to have a storeroom full of food. I could not afford to keep the house toasty warm with “bought” fuel. If the electricity conks out in a January blizzard, as it seems to do more often now than in years past, we can ride the storm out fairly well. Not only will we stay warm, but we can cook our food and warm our water. The mere thought of this kind of security relieves stress and brings tranquility— the Federal Reserve can take away the interest on our life’s savings, but I don’t think even that bunch of buzzards can take away the warmth from our wood. Tranquility is the most precious possession of life, possibly more conducive to good health than proper food, exercise or medication. Add to that the tranquility that can be achieved in the work of cutting and splitting wood in the sanctuary of the trees. I often think of one of my heroes, Scott Nearing, who kept cutting wood until he was 100 years old. He stopped then, figuring he had enough ahead to last the rest of his life.

In terms of income, we reckon our tree land brings in about $1000 a year from the value of the wood substituting for other home heating fuels and an occasional sale of sawlogs and veneer logs, plus some black walnut and cherry lumber turned into furniture. There are also nuts and mushrooms for food, and hickory bark for cooking and smoking meat on the grill. There are bean poles and fence posts and gate boards and chicken roosts too. A thousand dollars is not much in terms of today’s high-flying business profits, but even this small amount, in terms of saving money is interesting (another dratted pun). In the thirty years we have been doing this, that’s $30,000 and if that money were put regularly into a savings account at five percent interest, the total amount would be appreciable if the Fed hadn’t interfered. But the money-saver must look on the bright side. Money in a savings account earns no interest now, but on the other hand, lifetime savers aren’t paying out interest on debt either. Moreover, renewable fuel is a far better investment than money. If heating fuel should become unavailable, not all the money in the world can keep you warm unless you use it for stove wood.

What makes a woodlot a treasure are the intangible benefits it provides. Beauty for one thing. Some people drive for miles to see tree leaves change molten gold and red in the fall. We just look out the window. Also out the window, some 20 species of birds flock to the feeder in winter— a whole lot more entertaining than unreality TV. In summer we keep a sharp eye out for brilliant insects too: a regal moth, a luna moth, a zebra swallowtail butterfly, to name only the gaudiest. I have often wondered why these creatures don’t get a better press. No beauty of the tropics can bedazzle the eye any more than a regal moth and if you have walnut trees around, you should have these blazing red-orange flames, as big as a sparrow. Then there is that morning or two in winter when the rising sun’s rays strike the ice coating all the tree branches and each twig sparkles with the entire color spectrum of a rainbow. If that ice spectacle could co-exist with 78 degree F air temperature, that would be all the heaven I could stand.

Trees teach patience, another key to achieving a little tranquility in this feverish world. Every day I walk under a dead oak branch that hangs by a few fibrous strands, looking like it could fall at any moment. It has been hanging that way for four years now.

Trees also teach true environmental understanding. Or maybe the right word is environmental awe, not understanding. Occasional visitors to woodland may not realize that the tranquility they sense is in their minds only. When you live in the woods you realize that all those trees seeming to be growing in peace with each other are locked in mortal combat, fighting for their very lives. For every one that gains ascendancy, others will die in its shade.

Stepping outside in the cruel winds of winter, I wonder sometimes why I live the way I do, braving the cold both morning and night to take care of animals. Then I reach the woods and suddenly the biting wind does not burn my face. Soon I reach the barn, sheltered by the trees, and go inside. It seems, with the animals all crowding around, that it is downright warm in there. And so peaceful. That’s when I know why I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. Even the worst days on the farm are better than the best days in a factory.


The most beautiful view I have on my place is the neatly stacked rows of firewood in the side yard behind and beside the chicken coop. This is my ‘work yard’, with the wood, chickens, and tool shed. Those long rows of wood represent many warm winter nights and a sense of independence. Although we have 4 acres of standing trees, right now I buy cut-to-length slab wood from a young man a few miles from here. The wood is a ‘waste’ product from an Amish sawmill but is ideal for our small stove. I prefer to leave my woods standing for the beauty and tranquility there. Our three children spent their childhood there, playing in the creek and climbing the trees and the bank. Soon, I will see my six grandchildren doing the same, God willing.

Wow Martin! I feel pretty good in that I provide all of our heating with wood that I cut, but I do use a chainsaw. I’d say you’ve got me beat by a mile cutting all your wood by hand. If you wouldn’t mind, please email me (davidveale@hotmail.com), as I’d love to find out more about the specific saws and techniques you’re using.

What an outstanding essay on the beauties of the woods and wood heating! I have a large wood stove in my living room and have provided most of my heat in my old two story farmhouse this year with fires in my stove. I have an electric space heater in my basement to keep the plumbing warm and baseboard electric heat on the second floor for the two bedrooms up there. I really enjoy cutting and splitting the wood. I use hand saws and a splitting maul and have harvested most of my firewood from dead trees around my 15 acres. I think God intended wood to be our heating fuel, and amen to your last sentence Mr. Logsdon. I worked 10 years in a factory and any day at my home and property are better than the ones I spent in the factory years ago.

Outstanding Reflection Gene…..especially loved the last line

Reminds me of a fish and game club I used to visit up in Quebec. No electricity, ya cooked on wood cook stove, hotter than the blazes in summer but loved splittin wood small enough for the firebox. I guess I’m kinda like Gene, and the Nearing’s too, always enjoyed physical labor especially when ya can see the results right before your eyes. Our society doesn’t value manual labor, they think it’s demeaning and good for immigrants, kinda sad me thinks.

Paul, most thermostats have a switch on them that says fan only, and this will circulate your air, it might not be perfet but it is better than than the heat sitting in one room. If possible, try putting a nice ceiling fan in the same room as your stove, it might just help jeff

David, we have had the same experience. Stairwells are wonderful (free) circulating fans. Our three level home’s bottom level is built into a hill. Even with just a fireplace fire on that level, you can stand at the top of the stairs into the kitchen-living room and feel the warm air coming up the steps. The same if you stand at the top of the steps in the upstairs, the warm air from the parlor stove comes up even more so. Gene

That’s a good question about indoor stoves. If you look at older homes which were built before the age of central heating with forced air, they tended to be more compact, going to a second story for additional space. In our house (built around the civil war era), the heat travels well to the upstairs via the stairwell; no circulation fans are necessary. The convection works great; just leave the door open to any room you want heated, or close the door to leave it unheated.

I think many newer homes — sprawling “ranch” designs in particular — would not lend themselves well to exclusive use of a wood stove.

Indoor stoves sound good, but how does it move heat throughout the entire house? thanks.

People with outdoor wood burners seem to love them, but they tend not to have any concerns about the viability of our electrical grid (as I do). If they lose electricity, they lose their heat. Plus, they cost more than indoor stoves by quite a bit. Plus, as Gene mentions, having the heat source inside is very nice — it allows you to warm yourself very nicely after a trip outside in the winter; much more so than standing next to a forced-air vent does.

Paul, I have often wondered about those outdoor stoves too. Lots of people are getting them. I hear both good and bad but have no experience. Sorry I can’t be of more help. I love my indoor Defiant parlor stove. Going to all the work of woodcutting, I want the reward of being able to sit right up next to real warmth when the blizzards are blowing. Gene Logsdon

I am currently using my woodlot to harvest cedars that are perfect for fence post. Unfortuantly I have gas and electric heat (ugh) but would like to move to wood soon. I have looked at the outdoor taylor stoves but often wonder which is better, the indoor stove or outdoor stove connected to the duct work.

Teresa Sue Hoke-House January 9, 2010 at 3:44 pm

As I type we have one of our two woodstoves roaring. It’s a cold, damp, foggy day here in the Pacific NW. If I stay here in the office much longer, we’ll have to fire the other one up too, cause it’s cold in here! We heat our house with wood and we are always thankful for the wood heat when the electric goes out. I am always tired of the ashes and the mess come spring, but I still can’t imagine life without the wood stove. Like right now, I think I’m going to log off this computer, make a cup of tea and sit in front of the woodstove and peruse my new seed catalogs. Sounds like a plan, thanks Gene for another great story.

Scott Nearing, by the way, is one of the most exciting authors I’ve found in recent history (right up there with some guy named Logsdon). The Nearings make an incredible effort to explain, point by point, their beliefs and how those translate into action. As a fairly idealistic young man with a lot of ideas and beliefs, but not much conversational prowess, I have a lot of difficulty explaining why I live in a tipi and haul firewood with horses and tend garden to people who are not familiar with the tranquility of a slow life. Scott’s writings have helped me to identify and explain my views much more clearly than I had previously been able to. I highly recommend all of his work!

Back in the day I used to rent an 80 acre pasture/woods for bred heifers and dry cows. It was part of several hundred acres of contiguous woodland – unusual for this part of OH. It was hilly and most of the hills were scrubby regrowth where the battle for sunlight was still being waged. But there was a couple acre spot on the other side of a steep slate run ravine where the war had been won long ago and the old warriors presided over an almost lawn-like undergrowth. I always called it the cathedral. And I always paused to spend – no – invest time that had nothing to do with cattle. To your homily, I say amen.

Jennifer Lauruol, Scott Nearing was sort of the guru of the 1970s back-to-the-land (or forward to the land, as I say) movement. All of us young rebels adored him. My favorite book about him is his autobiography, The Making of A Radical. He died about 15 years ago.
All you other respondents to Harvesting Tranquility. It really is fun (and so rewarding to me) to see that the young rebels still carry on. Way to go. Gene Logsdon

Here in Alaska, a friend of mine has 80 acres – 79 of mostly mature birch but with spruce, cottonwood, alder and willow mixed in and 1 acre cleared where she keeps her goats. It used to be part of a large homestead and the original farm fields are still sort of visible – all the young trees (all more than 20 years old!) are shorter than the mature trees that surround them. We have thought of coppicing but to do that, we’d actually have to clear some land and start over. Everything is too mature to sprout from the base of the trunk. She uses an electric space heater to warm her tiny little 10 x 10 cabin but should she ever install a woodstove, with judicious culling, she’d be set with fuel for life. Plans are to plant a living hedgerow of willow to provide a barrier to keep the four wheelers/snowmachiners out and the goats in. Some of the straighter trees have been felled to build sheds for goats and equipment. So I’d have to say that it’s more than the tranquility that comes from having plenty of wood to burn that makes a woodlot a precious thing.

Kerri in AK

I have always burned wood. Love the smell of the different smoke. The power goes out here often. We have two wood stoves in the house if we lose power. I have an Classic OWB but it needs electricity to operate. I often snowshoe in the winter thru the woods. Good for the soul.

I remember splitting wood a long time ago, when my then-husband and I heated our home exclusively with wood. 30 years have passed since then, and my circumstances have changed. While I don’t mourn the passing of that marriage, I do miss splitting the wood. I loved the way it made me feel: that good pull in the shoulders, that satisfying splitting sound, and the excellent pile of logs that spelled indoor warmth. I miss the smell, too: every time i drive through wood-heated areas, I remember those days. If I could do it again, I would. It’s a sweet memory.

Please will you tell us more about Scott Nearing?

Having recently moved to our new farm which is more wooded than open, I found myself starting to think along the lines of farmers past, viewing each patch of trees as potential grazing ground when cleared. And this thought coming from an ex-forester no less. Thank you for reminding me of the value of our forestland.

Amen! There’s something satisfying about the sound of a log being split by hand in the stillness of the woods, where every sound is softened by the falling snow.

We don’t have any land (yet), but whenever we go to my in-laws who have 40 acres in northern Minnesota, I volunteer to cut wood! They think I’m crazy to want to work on vacation, but as an office-dweller on the east coast, cutting wood is a wonderful escape!

Someday soon we will escape these chains, and have some land of our own. Thank you for your writing Gene, it has inspired and encouraged us to pursue our dream of farming.

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