BY TYLER FRANTZ
Cobalt- and lava-hued flames dance to the tune of the seasoned cherry’s crackle and hiss, while glowing embers sputter below. As I sit fireside, gazing into this hypnotic display unfolding, I am mystified by its beauty and inspired by its warmth.
There is something magical about the simplicity of burning hardwood. Perhaps it is a result of our primitive roots, but ever since I was a young boy, I found fires captivating. I’ve spent many an hour in front of our hunting camp’s fire ring, or gathering with friends around the fire pit at our home, and it’s always the same.
Like many others, the fire relaxes me. It allows me to think, quietly reminiscing of days gone by, of fond memories and old hunting pals, as I become lost in the enchanting dance of the flames.
As I sit in the den of my home, accompanied by family and the subtle warmth of a crackling fire, winter’s frigid grip is nothing more than a number on the window thermometer. By the fireside, I’m a blessed man, for all I need surrounds me.
I can recall more than one icy storm that temporarily put down the local power, and we were still able to cope — prepare a meal, stay warm and entertain ourselves — by the open hearth. Ever since the earliest days of mankind, fire has given humans sustenance.
Fire provides warmth, security and an obvious means for cooking. Natives used fire to fell trees, drive game and dry meats. European settlers used fire to clear land, forge tools and later to help power machinery. It has played a vital role in our existence.
Now, we have a variety of options from which to choose for heating our homes. There’s coal, heating oil, natural gas, electricity and biomass such as wood pellets, dry corn and cordwood.
At my home, we use a combination of heating sources — an oil burner, pellet stove and wood fireplace. Oil does the trick and heats the water, but it is costly and not very eco-friendly.
We love our pellet stove, which is super-efficient, makes sensible use of wood by-products, burns clean and results in minimal ash cleanup. A case for cordwood can and should be made, however, I realize an open fireplace is not the most efficient.
I plan to eventually install a wood stove, but on days with no electricity to power a blower, the minimalism of an open flame fireplace is the cat’s meow. There are a number of perks to burning cordwood.
First, it is renewable. Harvesting deadwood or purposely thinning out woodlots should be part of every landowner’s management plan. By selectively removing certain trees from a given property, owners can improve tree succession and understory habitat for a variety of animal species.
New growth is imperative for wildlife survival. We can achieve regeneration by selectively harvesting certain mature stands of trees, which will then open the canopy and give new plantings of young trees an opportunity to take off and thrive. It is important to consult a forester before doing this, though, because it’s easy to accidentally destroy an already productive stand if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Second, cordwood is probably the most cost-effective heating fuel. According to a renewable and alternative energy fact sheet released by the Penn State Extension, purchased cordwood is “the least expensive heating fuel for Pennsylvanians, and has been for the past 20 years,” when compared to electricity, fuel oil, coal and natural gas.
Harvesting one’s own cordwood reduces costs even further and gives lovers of the great outdoors just one more reason to get outside and enjoy nature. With minimal equipment, a little know-how and careful attention to safety, do-it-yourselfers can obtain a winter’s worth of firewood for little more than the cost of a chainsaw and some fuel.
Harvesting firewood is hard work, but it is fulfilling work that brings a sense of clarity to the mind, fitness to the body and peace to the soul. Splitting and stacking is a fond outdoor exercise for many, and the resulting wall of well-seasoned firewood is a rewarding reflection of the effort.
As mentioned earlier, the rousing simplicity of a hardwood fire is tough to beat. Its modest warmth and intoxicating glow create a humble ambience that has captivated mankind for thousands of years, and it continues to kindle us still.
Frantz is President of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.