PAT NEAL: Time to play fall sports

AUTUMN MUST BE my favorite time of year. It’s all about the sports. Baseball is building tension as we head toward the World Series. The football season kicked off the long, hard road to the Super Bowl.

In addition, we are into the middle of the most rugged of all contact sports, cutting firewood.

The Olympic Peninsula offers some world-class firewood cutting opportunities where the roar of the saw, the aroma of fresh pitch and the ache in the lower back takes us back to an earlier, simpler time when loggers ruled the earth.

Whoever said cutting firewood warms you twice, once in the cutting and once in the burning, was a real greenhorn. Cutting firewood warms you in more ways than you can shake a stick at.

First, you must start your chain saw, if you have one.

There’s nothing like jerking a pull cord on a chainsaw to warm you up.

After five or 10 minutes, you may want to check for fuel.

Got gas? Then you may have to get creative.

Take out the spark plug and give it a few pulls. Put the spark plug back in. Continue pulling. Drag the saw back to the road. Tangle in a mess of blackberry vines. Step into a mountain beaver hole and go down in a pile of limbs. Land where a hidden stump catches you in the swimsuit area.

You should be plenty warm by now.

This is before you have cut even a single stick of firewood. It’s once you get your chainsaw started that the real fun starts.

It is important to read all safety instructions when operating a chainsaw — especially the ones that mention injury, dismemberment and death.

There are generally three types of firewood on the Peninsula to choose from. It’s either in the road, above the road or below the road.

Firewood in the road would be our first choice, but you may have to look above the road where gravity is your friend.

Rolling rounds of firewood down a hill is one of the more traditional outdoor sports.

Watching with childlike wonder as the wooden wheel bounces down the hill, gathering speed until it slams into the side of your truck is one of the greatest thrills of nature.

Often a few raps with some common firewood cutting tools, such as a splitting maul or an ax, can easily repair minor damage and restore the truck’s showroom finish. Then again, if you were worried about how your truck looked, you wouldn’t be using it haul firewood in the first place.

More extensive damage to your vehicle, such as a fender bashed against a wheel that prevents it from turning, can often be fixed with the aid of a peavy. This is a logger’s torture device that can serve as an all-around automotive repair tool, combining a medieval pike with a wicked hook near the end that can be used to pry most anything apart, once you get a hold of it.

Splitting, loading, unloading and stacking the wood to dry allows you to become intimately familiar with each piece until you could almost name them all.

These are often bad names — given after you bark your shin, smash your foot or pull a splinter the size of a shingle bolt out of your hand.

Toughen up. Cutting firewood is a contact sport.

It is all worthwhile at the end of the day, when you have your first chimney fire.

This is yet another one of the many ways that firewood can warm you up.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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