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"A Winter's Day" by Beth Weick, as published in North Country News, February 2010

Soaking. Sopping. Water-logged. Wet, yes. It's the morning after my boots spent a night next to a dying fire, and the improvement is marginal. The two facts are more closely related than one might expect. The fire was dying due to a limited use of wood, and my boots were squish-ing cacophonously because I had spent all day tromping through warm snow while logging with the oxen. Still, I was grateful that they were a warm wet rather than frozen, to say the least.

I pushed my feet into these too-well-contained puddles and went about my morning chores. Putting on dry socks upon returning inside was quite the treat. My boots were returned to their spot alongside the now-cool fire box, and I sat down to write these words.

Warmth, heat, the ability to be dry and comfortable: it comes from somewhere, just like our food. A propane truck or an oil tank is no more of an explanation than a grocery store. And so here at D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead, just as we turn to our land to eat beyond a supermarket, we turn to our land to create our own heat. And the warmth we can most readily produce here at the farm is, of course, through wood.

To do so, we use chainsaws and a wood chipper run on vegetable oil: yes, there is some mechanization. Our other "heavy machinery" is our oxen team. Henri and August, however, are smart and perceptive beyond any piece of equipment, and are incredibly intuitive and strong. I've been working with them for just a handful of months, the three of us gradually getting used to each other, and becoming familiar with each of our habits and mannerisms. A logging day is a good test of who commands the respect between us, especially when the hours get long, or the logs heavy, or the footing difficult. Let's just say I've got room to improve.

By the time that the trees have been felled, pulled, cross-cut, split, and stacked, the individuality of each piece is lost. But while moving through the work of a given day, each tree holds its story – the perfect fell, or conversely, the one that just wouldn't acquiesce to our directional preferences; the small logs that pulled so easy, the heavy ones that tested the oxen's willingness and my fortitude; the wood that split on one whack, or not.

Not only does wood warm us multiple times before being burned, the stories of its handling color our day, weave our memories, teach us lessons. For the pursuit of warmth is a personal lesson, too. Logging is about communication – between people, with the oxen, even within oneself. When clarity is lost, efficiency is muddled (at best); at worst, the woods become dangerous. It is a lesson in persistence, practice, trust, familiarity; work that demands one to be observant, focused, and accountable.

There is the poetics of the situation, grand beasts and strong workers stomping through the snow. Flurries alternating with sunshine, the simple commands of 'gee' and 'haw' ringing out. (The four letter varieties are kept to a mutter). We each recognize the eloquence of the work, but there is also the reality: plunging through snow drifts has us breathing hard while snow is quickly converted to water inside our boots and pants; brush finds bare skin to scrape at, while snow piled on evergreen boughs finds just the right moment to comply with gravity and make its way down the back of one's neck. Falling down (just once), slipping, pushing through deep snow, and the sun never seems to stay in the sky quite long enough…it's not all quaint and idyllic.

But at the end of the day, exhaustion is coupled with invigoration, and the sense of being alive dominates the long winter evenings. Sleep comes easy, as does excitement for the next day's work. And yes, we are warm. Twice, thrice, four times over the wood warms us. For it is in Winter, as our days cease to be narrated by the litany of plants growing and food harvested, that we engage ourselves in writing the living memoir of our woods.

Beth Weick is a resident of D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead, a non-profit service organization. She first came to the farm in April 2008 as an intern, and now focuses her work on gardening, tending to the animals, and writing. Learn more about the programs at D Acres by visiting www.dacres.org.

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