THE PAT NEAL COLUMN: How much wood does a man need?

A MAN AND his wife lived on a small farm in the backwoods of the North Olympic Peninsula.

If you were to ask what they raised on this farm, the answer would be obvious: firewood. There were woodpiles stacked between the fenceposts, under trees and in sheds.

One night after a hard day of woodcutting, the man was on the back porch sharpening his chain saw.

“How much wood does a man need?” the wife asked.

“We need as much as we can get,” the man said.

“And besides, it ain’t like the stuff goes bad. You want to cure it for a couple of years to keep from getting a chimney fire.”

The woman had heard this before.

She walked quietly back inside, leaving him to explain his love of cutting firewood.

How the energy of the sun was transformed through the miracle of photosynthesis into a plant that made wood and oxygen, a gas we used to burn the wood and release the heat of the sun in winter.

How he loved the feel of a sharp saw cutting into a windfall at daylight. They’re no good for lumber anyway.

The bugs get into down logs about as soon as they hit the ground so you sure aren’t going to want to saw it into lumber for your own house, and how the government’s trying to shut down the honest firewood cutters. They push perfectly good wood in a pile and cover it with plastic to burn and pollute the air.

The next day the man drove his truck far into the forest following fresh tracks of a log truck. He knew the spoor would lead him to a logging show that might take pity on a firewood cutter with a cooler full of beer and smoked salmon jerky at quitting time.

Sure enough, just past the fork and around the bend the man found a high lead logging show in the middle of the road.

With the beer and smoked salmon jerky, the woodcutter made a deal with the loggers. He could have all the wood he could cut in one day for free. Any thing left would be torched by the government like a Third World slash and burn forestry practice or something.

The woodcutter barely slept that night. He had a nightmare of the loggers laughing around a bonfire made from the wood he cut.

The next morning found him in the woods at first light with a “hot saw” he had borrowed from his brother-in-law.

It was souped up with oversized everything and had a three-foot bar. He figured he’d need it for some of the pumpkin logs he rubber-necked the day before.

The big saw roared to life at the third pull.

He started cutting through a big chunk of old-growth fir like it was melted butter. The log was so big he would have to split the rounds into smaller pieces to move them to the road.

None of that mattered as a stream of aromatic sawdust poured out of the saw like water from a hose.

He ran the saw until the sun was high in the sky. He started splitting the firewood and throwing it into the road.

Toward afternoon, the man saw he’d really have to hustle to get all the wood he cut on the road by dark.

As the sun dropped to the horizon, he kept finding more wood to cut. Just at sunset, he felt feint and keeled over dead on the woodpile where the loggers found him the next morning.

How much wood does a man need?

It turned out it was just enough to make the box to bury him in.


Pat Neal is a fishing guide and writer. His column appears in the PDN every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or [email protected] Check out his blog at

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