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More Than Firewood

When we first lived on a farm in Nova Scotia, my partner and I were inspired by a huge maple tree on the north side of the long rutted driveway. At the base of the trunk, two adults could not hold hands and encircle the girth.

This was a tree that had stood through hundreds of winter storms, had sprung into new yellow life for as many seasons. She had flamed with the fire of Eastern autumns since before my ancestors set foot on this land.

She had seen the cycle of the seasons turn and repeat, silently observing as the days grew long and short. Solstices and Equinoxes came and went as she watched the sun and the moon dance their rhythmic gavotte every nineteen years.

That first winter, cold swept down from the Arctic, storm winds slammed into our home. The roof creaked, the house rocked. Whirling blizzard weather found the maple’s weakened limbs, and huge pieces of her crashed to the ground. In the night we heard her groaning and shrieking. In the morning we saw bark peeled off, flapping like the skin of an agonizing wound.

When spring came and only a fraction of the crown burst into new leaf, we were forced to accept that the tree was in distress. Her sap-dry side grew more brittle, her strength faded to a delicate frailty.

I thought about the life that she had lived. I ran my fingers along the scars where decades of snowplough blades had marked her bark. I envisioned the children whose bicycles had leaned there, who had swung in her branches.

My mind groped back to the first Europeans who might have known her. Courageous families, who had left everything behind them to come here.

Further back, had children of the Mi’kmaq Nation tasted the maple sweetness of her syrup? Had they played in her youthful shade?

Flocks of starlings spiralled out from within her, and I wondered where they would go. Was this tree a landmark on their journey? Would they be lost without her? I could not estimate how many thousands of birds might have paused for rest among her cooling leaves.

We locate saw-blades big enough, and prepared a merciful ending.

We apologized for imposing our human assessment of her tree needs, she stood stoic; relinquishing the decision-making to us.

After she had been felled, the smallest branches were cut to stove-length. Over the next weeks, the rhythmic thunk of the splitter and the axe rang out, as the solid central cylinder was transformed. After weeks heaped and drying it was stacked into an edifice of warming wood, triangle edges neatly knit together in a solid wall.

The next winter we warmed ourselves with all the sunlight that she had absorbed. The heat of her years of sun and shine was suddenly liberated into our home. We paused, when stoking the stove, to enjoy the leaping flames; the glowing embers; we huddled by it when we returned from the cold winter air.

We thanked her every day, as we warmed ourselves in her radiance.

It is fundamental to farm life, to all life, that nothing stays still. There is growth and change and life and death and winter and summer and warm and cold.

Reality on this rotating planet is about cycles and changes. Each step leads to the next this cannot be changed. All we can do is celebrate the moment, relish the place we are in, and be open to whatever might come next.


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