Up here in the northeastern part of the country, a sense of urgency begins to set in when the nights turn cool. It is time to step up the winter preparations.
I purchased firewood from my bachelor diary farmer neighbor again this year, just as I have done for so many previous years. I usually get ten face cords but decided to get fifteen this year. He delivered the split, seasoned hardwood to our side yard for $45 a cord. That $675 worth of wood will heat our house all winter, heat my work shop as needed, provide fuel for backyard maple sugaring next spring, and leave a few cords extra for the next year.
A neighbor of ours recently told Marlene that they spent $5,000 for propane to heat their house last winter. It is a big old house. I like big old houses. But I wouldn’t want a heating bill like that. Small houses have their advantages.
The only thing better than getting wood from my neighbor would be getting it ourselves. Cutting and bringing in a year’s supply of firewood can be a great family project, if you have the woodland. When I was a teenager, my stepfather and I worked together to cut firewood in our woods and get it hauled back to the house. We had an old Farmall F20 tractor and a wagon. The tractor started with a hand crank in the front. Cutting the wood was a lot of work. But it was good work. We split it all by hand with a maul. The harder-to-split chunks called for a sledge hammer and splitting wedge. We never used a hydraulic splitter.
We have friends who have woods and two teenage sons. They had their wood lot logged two years ago and have been working together as a family to cut the tops left by the loggers. They use the wood to heat their home and are selling the rest. I would love to be able to do that with my boys.
But we still manage to get some firewood work in. The wood we buy is split but many of the chunks are too big for our wood stove. So we re-split much of it. In previous years we have rented a log splitter and worked together over a weekend to re-split and stack the wood. Then my 17-year-old son, Robert, wanted to do the job himself, by hand, with a maul, and I paid him what it would have cost for renting a hydraulic splitter. He did that for two years. Last year my 13-year-old, James, took over the job of resplitting the wood. And he is again doing it this year.
I’m of the mind that every healthy boy needs physical work to do. They have a lot of energy and a physical challenge suits them. Splitting firewood is ideal work for a teenager. And it’s not “make-work.” It’s necessary work. It’s important work.
Another beneficial job for boys is helping with hay. I’ve written of this numerous times in the past, and here I go again....
One day last month I came home from work and Marlene told me that James was helping a neighboring farmer with his hay. A short while later he rode into the driveway on his bike. He was seriously filthy. Green hay chaff was plastered to his arms, neck and forehead. he was home only for a few minutes to refill his water jug. It was an exceptionally hot day. He was tired and grumpy. We didn’t have much of a conversation. He had to get back to work.
A couple days later James told me he had been working that day on the hay wagon, which was being towed behind the baler, which was being pulled through the field by the farmer on his tractor. Typically, when there are a lot of people helping to get the hay in, the farmer kicks the bales into the wagon with its tall sides, and they end up in a jumble. Then the wagon is unhitched, an empty is hooked up behind the baler, and the full wagon is taken back to the barn where several helpers help to unload it into the barn.
But on that day, James was the only helper. So he stood in the wagon as it was being towed behind the baler. He grabbed each bale as it was kicked into the wagon. He packed the bales tightly, layer after layer until the wagon was full.
It is something of a trick to ride a jouncing wagon and pack it full as the bales come flying back at you. It’s also hard work, especially when you are the only one doing the work and it is very hot. James packed two wagons tight and high on that day.
What pleases me most about this story is that James told me he was so hot he felt sick. He thought he was going to throw up and pass out. Those are two symptoms of heat exhaustion. But the bales kept coming. There was no stopping. The farmer needed him, and he stuck with it. That kind of work is for men, and he did the work like a man. I’m quite certain I could not have done that at 13 years old.
Robert has done less farm work this year because he has been working 40+ hours a week since early spring for a local building contractor. It has been a learning experience for him. It has not been without discouragements, but he has stuck with the job, and his employer told me he was pleased with Robert’s effort. That is what a father likes to hear.
Now, with summer over, it’s time for these working boys to refocus their energies into school work. James can continue to split firewood while homeschooling, but Robert will stop the carpentry work in October. His goal is to get his high school diploma (as a homeschooler) by next spring. Getting his own car (which he has saved the money to buy) is contingent on getting that diploma.
The car is the “carrot on a stick.” Boys need work and they need a tangible goal to work towards.
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