Friday, January 19, 2007

Log Functions

Black and silent, the wood stove devours whole logs that would have taken me hours to split. Many are fungus-covered and rotting, but what's the difference? Oxidation is oxidation. Some logs barely fit into the stove and require much jostling that risks causing other burning pieces to spill out onto our wooden rental-house floor. They call to mind my mother's frequent complaint to me, "You're just like your father." It was from him that I learned the trick of staggering in the front door and across the living room with my fingertips barely hooked around the edges of a full oak-trunk cross-section. Dumping such a log into the fireplace took skill -- it had to hit the fire just right, or it would roll back out with sparks already attached to its cold bark, pulling smoke in its wake.

Other daddies had neatly split, 3-cornered pieces of wood, one to a hand for each trip from the woodpile. So uniformly cut they were, I couldn't believe those daddies had split them themselves. And they probably could not explain why split wood burns better anyway. They were humanities professors. In our small college community, it was my dad who knew he was pushing the limits of physics with his big logs, since fires only burn on the surface. What you need in the fire are several surfaces facing each other to share heat, not one whole cylinder of chilled trunk with most of its mass far removed the surface. (Dad liked the skins to be left in his mashed potatoes too.) But if you can get nature to do the work, then you're that much ahead of the game, right? And so, like my dad, I push it. I bring in a big log and cram it into the flames and slam the iron door, locking it out of sight. By morning it will be gone, another weight and labor vanished from the earth.

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