The first sign of winter was in the wheels and fenders of my hay hauling trailer.
I was gathering another load of small square bales before the rain was supposed to set in, but when I pulled through my gate at the back of the ranch, I could smell hot rubber.
Montana soil is truly amazing. The 2/10th of an inch of rain had swelled the soil so it packed between the trailer’s wheel and fender. Packed so hard it prevented the wheel from spinning freely.
We chipped away at the mud with a piece of metal I had found in the field, along with my little Leatherman and a stick. A half an hour later, most of the mud was in a pile around the trailer, I was late to pick up my daughter, Abby, from school and the trailer wheel could turn without burning out the bearing.
Hay hauling was on pause.
My brother, Roger, came to help with fall jobs the next day. Fortunately, my to-do list with him had more than just hauling hay. I switched gears to cutting firewood.
One of the joys of firewood is that it warms a person so many times. I’m warm when I cut it, warm when I split it, warm when I burn it and warm when I haul the ashes out. And warm when I drink hot chocolate each of those times, too.
More people should burn firewood.
I heat my house with propane, but a woodstove sits in the basement. I fire it up when the thermometer drops below 10 degrees or when the electricity goes out.
Or when I work in the basement.
Or when I feel like being cozy.
You probably didn’t know it, but I’m a logger. I log in the Graham Ranch National Forest.
I used to have 12 spruce trees in this national forest that surrounds the house, but one leaned toward the house and made me nervous. Then it started to look sickly.
One day – this was a few years ago -- while my husband, Steve, was gone, I decided it was time for that tree to come down. All I had to do was dodge the powerline, the house, the fence and the trucks in the driveway.
But geometry is my friend.
This should be no problem.
I found the chainsaw, gear oil and mixed gas. I made the first undercut without getting the blade stuck in the tree trunk, but the tree leaned.
Toward the house.
No problem. I would tie a rope up the tree and pull it away from the house with the pickup.
A low, flatbed trailer was hooked to the pickup and I couldn’t find the jack.
No problem. I tied the rope to the trailer. When I pulled, the rope broke.
The tree swayed.
Geez, I was going to have to tell the power company and Steve that I landed a tree on the house.
The tree righted itself and I made another cut.
This time, the tree fell perfectly, only the top bumped the trailer.
After that, although I am really a logger, I didn’t mind asking my brother to fall the trees. I would saw them into firewood.
Our original plan was to head up to the forest, but snow mixed with rain discouraged us. My friend had a few trees in her yard that made her nervous. We pulled up in her driveway with the windshield wipers flapping.
Roger thought he could lay the spruce down away from the house without taking out a fence, another tree that Mary’s dad had planted or the utility box.
He toppled it perfectly into the driveway even without the aid of an old rotten rope.
I had not started my chainsaw for a couple of years so I couldn’t wait to zap through the branches and trunk.
Four cottonwoods beckoned with their spindly, dead branches, waving among the golden leaves of the surrounding live trees. I know cottonwood is not a great firewood, but in a land of grass, I don’t waste any wood.
Three leaned toward open ground, but one tilted toward an old outhouse. The only safe landing would be the 3-foot space between the outhouse and a live cottonwood. Roger circled the tree, looking at angles while the chainsaw idled.
Three roars of a two-stroke engine later, the tree landed perfectly, not a scratch on the outhouse or the live cottonwood.
One of these days, we’ll head to the mountains for some pine, but meanwhile, a warm shower to wash the chainsaw oil smell out of my nose feels great.