From the Mountain

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Mark J. Tidwell


I’ve been enjoying some of my summer’s work the last few cold days.  When temperatures dipped down into the teens, and snow was blowing by horizontally in a stiff wind, a good fire sure did wonders to stave off the chill.  A fire has an unexplainable magic and calming effect to it.  One can contemplate many things while gazing into the blaze.  I suppose that can be traced back to the days of “Og” when man first utilized fire to stay warm in the cave and keep critters at bay.

I’ve been burning some big chunks of walnut lately.  The big tree was felled not by me, but by nature, age and wind.  It was a job to clean the rascal up.  I ran several tanks of fuel through my chainsaw in the endeavor.  The tree had been down for some time, so it was already fairly dry.  The bigger sections I split into quarters or sixths, so as they would fit into the stove.  Over time, I hauled it to the woodpile with my tractor and stacked it up for times just such as these.

Walnut is famous for gunstocks.  I’d reckon walnut has endured every climate and condition known to mankind as it has sallied forth to every part of the globe.  It was all over the Wild West. It’s been on Krag rifles in Cuba. In World War I Tennessean Alvin York used it in the Argonne on his 1903 Springfield. During World War II, Texan Audie Murphy used it on Carbines, Garands, and Tommy Guns. (Both those men won the Congressional Medal of Honor with a stick of walnut clenched in their hands.) Walnut stocked rifles manned the frozen Chosin Reservoir in Korea. They even carried over into the steamy jungles of Vietnam.  Only with the advent of the M-16 did America shy away from its dependence on walnut to fight wars.

I did a quick search and found that hickory is about tops in BTUs for warming oneself during the winter months.  On the low side of the scale are cedars and poplars.  Sitting comfortably in the middle of providing thermal energy sits walnut. 

I’ve always admired walnut trees.  They’re handsome and sturdy.  Their big compound leaves are some of the last to come out in spring.  In other words, when the walnuts get leaved out, you’re pretty much assured the cool spells and frosts are over.  Come fall, they turn glowing yellow and are one of the first participants in fall’s leaf-drop party.  Walnuts provide a lot of food for squirrels, and even some eating pleasure for us humans.

One peculiar thing about walnuts is most folks seem unable to sprout them.  My late father used to try his hand at planting walnuts.  His success rate was dismal.  However, he’d watch the squirrels around Highcliff, how they carried the walnuts, and how they turned them in their little furry paws before burying them.  Dang, just about every walnut the squirrels forgot to come back and consume would send up a little shoot the next spring.  I’d reckon that’s why they say squirrels are nature’s best forester.

Stocking up some wood for the wintry months can warm a body several times; when you saw it, when you stack it, when you split it, when you carry it into the house, mostly when you burn it, and lastly when you carry the ashes out.  It looks like there’s going to be some tough weather out there this winter.  Thanks to TVA and some good chunks of wood, I plan to stay warm just like caveman “Og” did back in the BC days.