They say wood warms you twice. I reckon it warms five times: just not all cosily tucked up on the sofa.
First: Collection - which actually falls into two stages of warming. The driftwood round here can come in the size of tree trunks that need chainsawing in situ - perhaps into three or four logs. Then we barrow them home, which can be half mile of wheeling along the seawall.
Third: Chaining. It's a job neither of us like, but free fuel is not something to turn up your nose at. For the past few weeks we've been watching our chopped wood supply sink, saying "when it stops raining we'll get out the chainsaw out...". It hasn't stopped raining - or at least not when we're both around to get stuck in.
Except this morning - bitterly cold, yes, 30mph wind gusts, yes, but glorious sunshine too. It was an opportunity to grasp with both hands - after coffee, chat, crumpets and a little essential weekend lounging.
We haven't been so cornered by the weather before - only a few nights' worth of wood left to burn, we couldn't wait for the 'winter winds' to calm down. Besides, it was May when that happened last year. South westerlies have the clearest line to howl across the garden. (I'm trying to grow a windbreak but need a windbreak for that to have a chance to grow). There's not a lot of shelter. We positioned the saw-horse upwind, the wood piled downwind and begun the slow, rather shouty task of slicing through ivy, avoiding nails, fingers and legs. No give in the wind to allow us to loiter. Always there's the disappointment of finding what appeared a massive juicy log is actually rotten as hell and while has some calorific value is deemed 'summer wood' if not discarded.
Fifth: Chopping. Because we're dealing in tree trunks what we saw is too dense for the stove. It needs splitting to have half a chance of burning well. Out with the chopping block and axe. Given we've already spent a hefty amount of time hauling wood from the garage to the saw-horse, sawing it, barrowing it down to either the woodshed to stack or the chopping block to axe, we're already pretty pooped.
With the wind now gusting to 40mph, welding an axe takes some strength to keep its aim precise. And there's no best place to position myself in relation to wind/chopping block/wood/wheelbarrow. Wherever I stand the wind hampers - catching the axe - buffeting my back - overturning the barrow - scattering splinters. I don't think I've ever found chopping as hard work as this morning and there's no relief in pausing. The wind still pummels. It's cold standing still, chilling the sweat.
And while it's good there's loads of wood it's a bastard too. I have no memory of warmth, comfort or any physical recollection of why I'm doing this except the inherent knowledge I must I must. As one block splits I remember how my dad loved this job. He'd spend what seemed like hours swinging his axe, probably tapping into some base instinct, which I can't find, not in my icing toes, my numbing fingers nor, disappointingly, in a graceful arcing swing of an axe-welding natural.