Norwegians would

wood pile 1THE best books are about obsessions. The subject matter is largely irrelevant because the reader can identify with the enthusiasm of the author. Subjects as diverse as the history of typefaces, Edwardian ironmongery, or collecting sugar-cube wrappers become fascinating dimensions hitherto unknown, let alone explored. Obsessions unravelled by the obsessed are intriguing because we can detect telltale signs of ourselves in the text. We recognise traits. We are warmed by the eagerness of a fanatic. So when a man in Norway writes a passionate treatise on the art of chopping and stacking firewood, and we absorb the words he has carefully crafted, we smile because we think: that’s how I feel about renovating my 1967 air-cooled Volkswagen T2 split-screen campervan, or polishing my 1,679 hexagonal ink bottlers, or cataloguing my collection of Oor Wullie annuals. We are warmed, and we smile, because the author has sent us a signal: we are not alone. There are others out there with similar passions. And those passions run deep and ripple against distant shores. We have been rippled . . .

I downloaded Norwegian Wood, Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Norwegian Way, by Lars Mytting, on my Kindle after I read a review in The Guardian. There was a line that said: “Discussions on the vexed question of whether logs should be stacked with the bark facing up or down have marred many a christening and spoiled many a wedding when wood enthusiasts are among the guests.”

myttingI thought: Christ, I’ve had discussions like that at weddings and christenings. Not about how to stack firewood, but certainly concerning the vexed questions on how to plant potatoes (trench, dibble or ridge); the advantages of single-rope-technique over electron ladders when potholing (that’s going back a bit, mind), gadgets to increase the mileage on a Series III short-wheelbase Land-Rover after you’ve installed free-wheeling hubs and overdrive (sold it in the end), and whether the quality of Hartley’s Beer deteriorates in thundery weather (don’t recall the outcome of that one).

So I sit on my stool, devouring Lars Mytting’s words about the calorific values of various types of wood and the development of the chainsaw industry, and I feel his ripples. I am warmed inside and a smile dances awkwardly across my face. Unlike Paul Simon, I am not an island – a lone fanatic. Lars Mytting has his firewood; I have my collection of British Rail holiday posters and seed packets for nine different varieties of cabbage.

Mytting’s book has arrived at an opportune moment because we need firewood for our stove. It actually gets cold here at nights. The snowline, at the moment, is just above Cañar, the village overlooking our home in Órgiva.

So I ring a Cornishman called Andy Bailey, who I met at a party in September and who deals in firewood, and the next day he arrives with a trailer loaded with 1.5 tonnes of olive wood – some slender branches as thin as a flamenco dancer’s wrist, some great gargoyle-shaped objects like blacksmith’s anvils. Did he chop this himself, I ask?

Andy shakes his head, then scatters yet more chips of unexpected knowledge. This olive wood comes from Jaén, north of Granada, he says. It’s been felled on ground that has not been irrigated – you can tell by its orange tint. Olive wood from irrigated ground is whiter. This will burn well.

More wood lore. More learning. More ripples.

I spend the following morning building the heap of firewood into a neat stack. Whether Lars Mytting would approve of my handiwork I know not, but I’m sure he would do the same thing if he was in my shoes. I feel pretty proud when one of the cats walks over the stack and not one single log tumbles out.

All I need now is a wedding or a christening so I can impart some timber lore. Actually, a funeral would be ideal. Did you know the Chinese make coffins from scented cypress, sugi and incense-cedar wood?

wood pile 2


17 thoughts on “Norwegians would

  1. We’ve just finished chopping logs up at Samlesbury, but they’ve been left in a heap to dry out! I’m going to suggest the book to the head gardener when I go back next week.

    I’ve never understood people who aren’t fascinated by the minutiae of anything. Working in Go Outdoors I learned how Bridgedale make their walking socks, and now appreciate why they’re so expensive. I’m tempted to buy that book now and chop down the sycamore.

    And hats off to your mate in Cornwall; one phone call and he travels all that way to deliver a pile of logs. Just getting out of Devon must have been a nightmare at that time of night.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Cornwall is a long way to travel with a load of wood, but it was worth it. Apparently, the Bodmin olive groves are second to none.
      Norwegian Wood is a great read, especially for someone with more than a passing interest. That sycamore will be down and drying before you’ve finished the first chapter.
      Perhaps there’s a book about walking socks waiting to be written. Perhaps you’re the man to write it.
      Cheers, Alen

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Ahhh Alen! After your missive I’m glad I didn’t buy that book. Your post is enough for me. I’m surprised the stool you were sitting on whilst reading the book hasn’t gone that same way as those olive trees. I do remember picking up Mr Mytting’s book in a book shop last year but put it down quickly and chose a book titled “Consolations of the Forest” Its subtitle is “Alone in a Cabin in the Middle of the Taiga”. Written by Sylvain Tesson, a French writer. A good read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ash. I like the sound of Alone in a Cabin in the Middle of the Taiga. Books like that (and Norwegian Wood) are written by people who have something to say. I’ll keep an eye open for Tesson’s book.
      The stool is still in one piece, I am happy to say, though my wife is rather fond of the expression: “Throw another chairleg on the fire, Mother.”
      All the best, Alen


  3. Alen,
    A great post,thanks but here is another book for you.
    I have an old penguin edition [1977] of The Shining Levels by John Wyatt, ‘the story of a man who went back to nature’. A book about his addiction to the Lake District and nature. He devotes several paragraphs to the detailed burning qualities of various woods and also the fragrances of their smoke! Just up your street, excuse me if you have read it.
    John Wyatt started life as a copy reader at The Daily Telegraph in Manchester and moved on to camp site warden, forest worker, RN telegraphist WWII, estate worker, sub-postmaster, Oxfam organiser, head warden Lake District National Park – a list anyone would be proud of. Would highly recommend the book to you.


    1. Hi John. Thanks for that. I haven’t read that book but the name John Wyatt rings a distant bell in a dark corner of my head. He would have been head warden at the LDNP back in the 1970s when my fell-walking career lifted off, so that’s probably where I know the name from. Another book I shall keep an eye open for.
      All the best, Alen


    1. Deary me, Carol. The main treat when visiting a cafe when you were a kid was getting to unwrap the sugarlumps in the bowl. Some were wrapped individually, some in pairs. And you always shoved some in your pocket, too.
      There is more to firewood than meets the eye. Firewood is the future.
      Cheers, Alen


  4. I used to collect sugarlump labels when I were nobbut a lad. I still have my collection although it’s very difficult to add to nowadays and hasn’t been expanded since an Easter trip to Paris in 2002. Sugar sachets just don’t cut it really, especially as you have to tear them open to get at the sugar, and that was all part of the delicacy of collecting, trying to get the label to open without tearing it: I lost one or two lovely examples because the glue was too strong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Martin, I detect a book in the writing. And I must admit, sugarlump labels have the edge on tomato ketchup sachets or those little envelopes full of vinegar which always spray their contents over your hands and shirt.
      Sounds like Paris was the end of a sweet dream. Blimey, this book is almost writing itself.
      Cheers, Alen


  5. Oh, and I see Bessie (or is it Agnes), looking at you with a typical “What???” expression that I recognise immediately! She’s very well camouflaged. A very well stacked pile, Alen, which is a work of art in itself by the sound of it. I bet it will burn beautifully!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jo. I knew you’d spot the cat. It’s Agnes wearing her bad attitude expression. Like: “You’ve built your woodpile now sod off while I sit on it.”
      Yes, it is a very well-stacked pile, even if I say so myself, but it’s going down quickly. Great stuff for burning is olive wood.
      Cheers, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Norway’s largest newspaper, Aftenposten, writes a lot about the weather. The weather is Norwegians main interest, besides woodcutting and winter sports on television. Woodcutting provides the greatest training effect tells the rower, Olaf Tufte who use woodcutting as training for the Olympics. Just a good hint, Alen 🙂
    I understand you favour self-sufficiency. We have an expert in Denmark, but mind you he has friends who come from Norway to help him.
    He goes into recycling, and have a very large stock of all sorts of items. His only problem is cataloging 🙂
    If you see some of his broadcasts, your smile will never fade 🙂 Bonderøven (The Farmer)

    When I saw the title of your post, I thought of The Beatles. Then I realized I was wrong, but it was about what Norwegians would do if they could chose: They chop and stack.
    Hope you’ve got the warmth now!!
    All the best,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I should be pretty good at rowing before too long, Hanna, but there is a shortage of fjords around here so I’ll probably have to turn my excess energy to some other form of entertainment. I had a look at the video and I’m impressed. He has more resources and willing workers at his disposal than me, and a really nice bus. I wouldn’t mind a bus like that, and now I’ve room to park one.
      Plenty of warmth now, and my old LPs have arrived from England so I might try to dig out Norwegian Wood.
      All the best, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

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