Cutting and splitting firewood is a normal part of many New Englanders’ lives. In particular Maine has a rich history of storied lumberjacks. Up until the COVID-19 pandemic it had no part in mine. Growing up asthmatic, wood burning wasn’t even an option in my household. Even visiting homes that used wood for heat would instantly trigger wheezing and coughing. These experiences were a far-cry from rough and tumble ethos of Maine Loggers like Jigger Johnson, who would kick knots off frozen tree trunks with this bare feet. That said, I always liked the idea of using an abundant natural resource as heat, especially on a small scale where it can be done sustainably and without the use of carbon-emitting heavy equipment.
In March, when the pandemic hit and the economy began losing momentum fast, my “plan-for the-worst” mindset kicked in. Not knowing what the future would hold, I started to think about how I could prepare in case I would be one of the thousands of Mainers to lose their jobs. Looking out into the bare forest I noticed dozens of fallen, and soon to be fallen, trees that needed to be cleaned up.
It didn’t take long to start to put the pieces together that this could be a “two-birds, one-stone situation.” Instead of letting the trees rot and become an eye sore, I could split them up into firewood and cross my fingers that someone will be looking for some wood come fall. It soon turned into a “three-birds, one-stone” situation when gyms around the state started closing. I knew cutting my own firewood would be hard; I didn’t realize just how much work actually goes into processing it all. It is a physically intensive activity, and I soon realized how the lumberjacks of yore got their reputation for strength, determination, and big appetites!
While splitting wood started as a potential side hustle, it turned into a very enjoyable hobby. I can relate it to running or any other exercise really. The more you do it, the less it becomes a chore and the more you look forward to it. You can push to split a couple more logs like the way a runner would push for another mile.
The one benefit of splitting wood over running is that you can sneak a beer or two in. It’s hard to pick a better match than Logger Road. Splitting logs… logger road… you get the connection. It’s also a super easy drinking beer with a lower alcohol content to keep safety a priority while swinging around an eight-pound maul.
Although modern machinery has long replaced the lumberjack, there is something about the simplicity and Earthy nature of axe and wood (and yes, beer) that feels natural. It’s a distinctly Maine activity; if you’ve ever wanted to try it, give it a shot. At the very least you’ve got plenty of fuel for winter!