COLUMN: A Simple Country Man

Hobie Morris

Hobie Morris

America’s Greatness: Wood Thumps Trump

By Hobie Morris

My beautiful wife Lois and I are humbled by a unique opportunity of living a unique life completely foreign to Americans in 2017. A way of life that is extremely hard but with amazing rewards of incalculable beauty and benefits. We live in the deja vu days of daily chores, the wood shed, hard physical work in the clean fresh air. We live in Brookfield, which grows two crops—trees and rocks (Author).

It is the first chilly Fall morning. We hear whining chainsaws in the distance. Soon heavily loaded pickups will be moaning and groaning up Brookfield’s hills. Green firewood almost touching the pavement while the cobbed-together pickup’s nose is looking skyward as the driver is looking downward. As the cold strengthens, days shorten, the hard working firewood cutters’ beards lengthen (in part, anticipating the long awaited fall hunting season).

Cutting firewood in the fall is an important ritual in these hardscrabble hills. The availability of abundant wood has become, for many, a necessary heating source and also, in some cases, money maker. How many generations have done this? Probably thousands of years in this area and millions in the pre-history Stone Age. Up to the modern times, when the new heat sources were extracted or developed, wood was the essential fuel.

In our area, and no doubt yours, wood-gathering was often a life (or death) necessity. Winter survival was at stake, and an empty woodshed in January could be a very serious and deadly omission. Old timers would often say that when the days lengthen the cold strengthens. And indeed it does. You could use a sizeable amount of wood in March, April and May…so you better prepare in the Fall. Cutting trees at any time is a dangerous challenge. In the early years of this community, there were many killed when cutting down trees using the muscle-powered cross-cut saw. The danger still exists despite all the safety features available today.

Her name was Sarah Swift Hawk. An elderly Sioux Indian who froze to death in her dilapidated one room reservation house for want of wood or any kind of fuel. Firewood on reservations is scarce and expensive. Some Indian families use old clothes to fill cracks and holes in the walls. Many have no heat at all. In some instances, ice or snow is held against a person’s body to melt it so as to give a child a drink. The conditions of reservation Indians in 2017 are far worse than in many third world countries. And this in the richest country in the history of the world. Our first Americans deserve far better than huddling together in a dirt-floored house, sometimes ten to a house, with no heat in a South Dakota blizzard. This continues to be another black chapter in America’s history.

For 36 years my lovely pioneering wife, who grew up in often harsh winters in South Dakota, and I have lived off the grid. Completely dependent on firewood I cut for heat and cooking.

The math is rather staggering: 288 months (our burning season is eight months); 1,152 weeks; 8,064 days and 195,536 hours (burning wood 24/7).

With two stoves using approximately 80 to 100 pieces of wood per day, you can roughly figure the number of pieces of wood that I have cut, split, stacked and handled many times during the past 36 years. Indeed, you must handle each piece many times from a standing tree to opening the stove door and putting in a piece of seasoned wood. I split all my wood with an axe.

I couldn’t do this without my incredibly wonderful wife, a third-generation Norwegian-American whose ancestors broke the virgin soil before South Dakota became a state. Lois has an incredible true grit persona and her incessant laughter and loving concern for others brightens and illuminates wherever she goes.

With all this meekly said, compared to earlier generations I’m a firewood wimp. Our ancestors were richly blessed to encounter endless virgin woodlands so vast that it staggered their imagination. The humblest American pioneer could make bigger fires that the greatest European nobleman who had depleted Europe’s once great forests. In America, in the dead of winter, American families kept warm by adding wood. The warm fire was a utility, a celebration, conversation and courtship center.

The early fireplaces in Brookfield were large enough to hold huge logs. Some fireplaces were in the center of the house and in some instances a single horse would haul in a large fire log through one door and leave through an opposite door. An eight-foot log was not uncommon.

It should be noted that houses in those days had no insulation; the inside and outside walls were vertical planks, and the windows, if any, were incredibly drafty. This simple country man holds our pioneering ancestors in the highest esteem. Living in often brutally cold conditions, completely dependent on firewood, it took a prodigious, year-round effort to secure. In historical perspective, America’s greatness was dependent on the availability of wood as it still is today. I wonder how our new president would do if his family was dependent on his grabbing a chainsaw and heading to the woods.

What do you think?

Hobie Morris is a Brookfield resident and simple country man.

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