Fall Work

Tom Bodett

Tom Bodett | Nov 09, 2012

If you’re tempted to attribute the lag between my last post and this one to laziness, dim-wittedness or absence, you are mistaken. I haven’t been anywhere. I’ve been home quietly going mad with winter preparations.

Autumn weather in Vermont compels the weekend do-list to write itself. Every season has its obligations but none seem as urgent as Fall's.

I don’t have a pop-up alert on my iCal in May telling me to “Put out the porch chairs," but I do have one that says, “Take in the porch chairs” in October. I won’t forget to put them out when the weather gets warm because we will one fine day decide to relax on the porch and realize, without prompting, there is no place to sit. You’ve got stay sharp like that in the country.

But when the weather turns cold, the mind turns inward, and the chairs get forgotten until they blow over and freeze to the wooden deck. Sometimes hearing them blow over and scritch across the porch will motivate me, but not always. Better to trust iCal.

Porch chairs assuming the winter position.

Another seasonal chore that needs a nudge is cleaning the filter on the septic tank outlet. This is the screen that catches all the, um, material that did not break down enough to safely pass through the leach field without plugging it. I do this in the fall because if the leach field is ever going to fail and back up the septic system into the basement – I want it to happen when we can flee our home safely while somebody digs a new one. I need an extra strong poke for this activity because I tend to purge it, so to speak, from my thoughts. Pumping the septic tank entirely is something we only do every two years, but the Congressional elections handily remind me to do that.

This job stinks.

By far the most all-encompassing, equipment-intensive, and ultimately useless fall chore is the annual Gathering of the Wood. Of the long list of thankless chores that make up an alarmingly large part of my days this is my favorite for one singular reason: it utilizes just about everything I own with a motor in or on it.

Throughout the spring and summer I quietly stalk leaning or blown down trees in the woods and mark them for incineration in our living room woodstove. Getting them from their leaning situation in the forest to their burning situation in the stove is a process fraught with chains, diesel, logging bars, peevees, saws, splitters and Advil. (Handy Rule of Thumb: The 50:1 ratio of two-cycle oil to gas for chainsaws is the same as pain relievers to cords of wood.)

Heavy Duty grill and winch provide respite from crippling lower back pain.

After extensive calculation I’ve surmised that one eight-foot by sixteen-inch hickory log holds approximately the same amount of heat as the arguments you must have with your wife to buy the stuff necessary to extract it. Employing a heavy truck, 12’ dump trailer, 30hp tractor, all-wheel-drive utility vehicle and the aforementioned saws, chains and tempered steel accessories, I’ve further estimated that I will have to burn six cords per year for the next twenty years to approach the economies of simply burning my money.

BTUs in their most primitive state.

On top of all that, now that our house is officially a net-zero solar/geo-thermal heat pump proposition, burning wood to save money while spewing carbon into the atmosphere makes less than no sense. Besides, we have three cords of dry split wood in one shed, two cords in another, and probably five more cords in logs bucked and stacked around the lower wood lot. We’ll burn maybe a cord in the woodstove this winter. When you add all of that up and really look closely at the data there is no escaping the conclusion that I’m an idiot. And that owning an arsenal of deforestation tools such as I do has no justification whatsoever.

I could go on about the comforts of heating with wood and the aesthetic appeal of a crackling fire on a brisk Vermont morning, but this is not about that. I might wax parental on how good it is for my over-privileged children to see and know the virtues of physical labor, but I don’t really let them touch any of this stuff. I could seek refuge in the notion of instinctual behaviors – my DNA triggering me to gird for the coming winter, no matter the reality. But I know better.

What it’s really about is the machines. This is my sandbox and I am going to by-god play in it. A good tractor needs little justification. A good truck, less.

The idiot at the wheel? He could use a porch chair about now. And a couple Advil.


(photos courtesy of Tom Bodett)

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One