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Opinion: Gassed

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | October 25, 2023 2:00 AM

With the weather ready to take a turn I figured I better quit hiking in the woods for a weekend or two and cut some firewood. Oh sure, I would have much rather have gone into the backcountry, but it is kind of nice to sit next to a big fire when a winter storm in rolling in. It’s a little more soothing than just cranking up the furnace.

We’ve been sort of lucky this year in that we’ve managed to find some down and dry larch, the king of all firewoods, at least in Montana. Growing up in the East we burned mostly oak, maple and ash, which are great firewoods if they’re dry, which wasn’t always the case at my grandparent’s house.

“Hiss you sonafa…” my grandfather would growl at the stove as he threw a piece of iron-hard damp maple into the it.

In Northwest Montana of course the maple trees are bushes and the only oaks are the ones planted in folks’ backyards. The oak in my backyard is doing surprisingly well, but growing achingly slow. It was planted close to 20 years ago now and still is only about 20-25 feet tall. It will be 100 years before it makes good firewood.

But I digress.

In addition to the larch we cut up a big Ponderosa pine, which is not ideal firewood by any stretch, but it does seem to hold a coal much better than I expected. It was down and looked to have been dead at least through the scorching summer, so I hope it’s fairly dry.

Ponderosa pine is a bear to split when it’s wet.

In the “glory days” right after the wildfires up the North Fork you could find firewood close to the road just about anywhere without too much trouble. But over the years, as one might imagine, the number of available trees has dwindled as folks pick them over.

Now the trees are typically a bit farther from the road. Sometimes a lot farther. A few years ago I found two massive larch that were down. They were near a road, but the road was gated so we used a cart to haul haul it out. I think I paced it off at something like 900 feet.

At least it was downhill.

This latest foray was a bit closer to the road than that, but we still had to use a cart. The cart is one of those metal Gorilla carts you can buy at Murdochs. They’re so-so. The metal mesh floor broke almost immediately so I’ll have to come up with a new floor soon.

But the basic frame has stayed together and you can take the sides off easy enough, so I loaded a chicken coop on top this summer so I could move the birds around, which worked out fairly well, which is to say the coop only fell off once.

So fast forward to Sunday and I had just one last tree to cut up and haul out. But I pulled and pulled and pulled and the saw wouldn’t start.

I must have flooded the engine, I thought. There was still a tree to cut so I figured I let the saw sit and we’d haul that wood out while the saw had a chance to dry out a bit.

About an hour later I tried the saw again, but it still wouldn’t start.

Then I opened the gas cap. Bone dry.

Chainsaws run much better with fuel in them.

Sigh.