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How Much Wood?

It’s An Age-Old Question:

“How Much Wood Could a Woodchuck Chuck

If a Woodchuck Could Chuck Wood?”

(Author’s Note: Every year for the past 30+ years, I’ve augmented our home’s heat through the winter via the warmth of our woodstove. I burn, on average, about 1 1/2 face cord/month every winter, October-March. A bit less in the fall, a bit more in the cold months. So, every morning in August & early September, I spend an hour or so swinging an 8 lb. splitting maul while I ponder this age-old life question.)

     It’s a mystery I’ve been pondering since I was a lad.  I’ve dedicated a lifetime of serious research and study seeking to answer to this question. I’ve chucked my own fair share of wood in the process.  But alas! Despite a lifetime spent wood chucking, that chuckin’ woodchuck’s wood chucking formula eludes me. Thus, I’m still chucking.

     My first serious attempt to wood chuck my way to discovering the woodchuck’s chucking wood formula came in Saranac Lake, my boyhood home.

My mom, younger brother Ray & me, circa 1974.
Chucking wood at our family’s home in Saranac Lake.

     We had a big fireplace in our living room, a wood stove in our kitchen, a big cast-iron pot-bellied stove in our basement, and later a wood furnace. Needless to say, our family split, stacked, and chucked a whole lot of firewood through the years feeding those stoves. Sometimes Dad took pity on us and rented a wood splitter.

     I learned to split blocked wood by hand, with a splitting maul, axe and wedge.  I very quickly became quite adept at it. It was one key way I augmented my allowance, or commuted Mom’s sentence for one of my many youthful Adirondack Outlaw offenses.

My friends and I always had to keep a wary eye out for my mom. Mom was not above recruiting any kids who showed up to pitch in and help. They’d come over to our house to play baseball or go fishing, but if Mom got ahold of us first, we’d all end up chucking wood.

     At some point my parents spotted an old coal chute lying behind Gendron’s Lumber.  Dad borrowed it for chucking stacked cordwood from our yard to our basement.  Turns out I wasn’t the only Adirondack Outlaw in our family. It worked so well as a wood chucker’s chute, that somehow Dad simply “forgot” to return it. We used that coal chute for chucking wood into our basement for decades.

     I even earned my first baseball mitt chucking wood. It was dark brown leather. I spotted it in Blue Line. I fell in love with it immediately. The clerk let me put it on lay-away.  I earned a quarter per day chucking wood down Dad’s “borrowed” coal chute.  I chucked wood all summer until I had that mitt paid off. I didn’t get any closer to solving life’s wood chucking conundrum, but I did earn my first baseball mitt. I can still smell that leather.

     My wood chucking studies continued.  I joined Saranac Lake’s Boy Scouts. Talk about Adirondack Outlaws! Our troop was a rogue’s gallery of bushwhacking scallywags.

Saranac Lake, N.Y.
Outlaw Scout Troop

Our “scoutmaster” was ancient. I think he was somebody’s grandfather. So, we were for the most part unsupervised on our scouting adventures. From the codewords and surveillance techniques required to fish the prohibited waters of the DEC trout hatchery’s Little Clear breeding pond without getting pinched, to the wonders of cigar smoke, RED MAN, cursing, and whiskey, I learned many of a man’s most critical outlaw skills as a member of that troop.

     One winter our outlaw scout troop had a winter outing in a cabin. I don’t recall where it was. May have been somewhere up near Massawepie.  Then again, it could have been somewhere else.

     Regardless, as one of the youngest scouts in our troop, I was not allowed to carry a knife until I earned my Totin’ Chip.

     Now, I’m not at all sure what the Totin’ Chip earnin’ requirements are in most troops, but on that particular scout trip in OUR troop, it meant spending a cold winter’s night locked outside the cabin, with an axe, splitting firewood.

     So, by the time I was a young teenager I had earned my own baseball mitt and was Adirondack Outlaw scout qualified in axe swinging, swearing, tobacco chewing, trout poaching, whiskey sipping, and cigar smoking. But alas, I remained no closer to solving that chuckin’ woodchuck’s wood chucking life riddle.

     I continued my studies, chucking wood every summer in our family’s Bull Rush Bay camp. “Dead & Down” was the rule.  Though, truth be told, every now and again, “Down” might have had a little help from a Bigfoot.

Hey! Don’t ask me how that tree fell!
Musta been a Bigfoot!

     I continued my wood chucking woodchuck studies into adulthood.  It helped sustain me through cancer. After my surgery, every day, no matter how weak and washed out I felt, I would go outside, where I’d split and chuck firewood, at least a few sticks. It slowly helped me gain strength.  It helped sustain me but gave me no answers.

     I’ve continued my wood chucking studies though the years since. Other folks go to the gym. I split, chuck & stack wood. My son says I chuck every chunk of wood at least seven times before it finally finds its way to my woodstove.

My cancer “Survivin’ Chip” wood chucker’s gym

  I enjoy splitting wood by hand, swinging a maul, smelling that sweet smell, studying and feeling the grain of each block, measuring face cords, admiring each stack, sometimes just standing there contemplating life’s wood chucking question.

     Yet, to this day, the answer eludes me. Even when sitting quietly, ruminating, contemplating, considering and calculating after chucking more wood on/in my campfire or woodstove.

     I don’t know how much wood a woodchuck could chuck if he could.

But I’d sure love to challenge that chuckin’ woodchuck to a wood chuckin’ contest.

I wood if I could.


Until Our Trails Cross Again: