Saturday, January 2, 2010


"Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest."
(Wendell Berry)

Winter is a good time to think of the forest. The pace of life slows down enough that you can listen to the slow beat of the forest's heart. We realize that trees are our main crop: and this crop we harvest where we did not plant, and we plant what we will not see through to full maturity.

Most of the leaves are down, and you can see more clearly how the land lies, and how the trees stand on the landscape. The gullies are more severe in some places than I thought last summer. There are a lot of trees down, either cut by the previous owner or dead from disease or pests. It looks like the guy who used to own this land was thinning out the shagbark hickory, so we have several years' worth of solid firewood out there, if we are willing to do the work to drag it out and cut it up.

And as winter settles in around us, we are more dependent on the woods, because the main heat in the house is a wood-burning stove. A few nights with temperatures in single digits make you love good firewood, make you a connoisseur of the hard, round chunks that will burn hot and last for hours through the night. That shagbark hickory we've been cutting and splitting packs a big energy punch: roughly 25 or 30 million BTUs per cord.

But you cannot consume a forest forever, so winter is the time to plan how we will re-plant trees in the spring. The Missouri Department of Conservation offers bundles of bare-root seedlings (mostly native species well suited to our area) at very reasonable prices. We  put together an order which is a winter dream of our children’s (and grandchildren’s) forest, not ours.