Closer to the Ground:
A Family’s Story of Getting Back to Nature on an island in Puget Sound
Closer to the Ground by Dylan Tomine is a personal story of a father learning to share his love of nature with his family including his two young children through the exploration of nature’s woods and waters. The family forages, cooks, and eats from the woods and the sea throughout each of the four seasons encountered on an island in Puget Sound of Washington.
This compelling tale follows Dylan Tomine and his family through the seasons as they hunt chanterelles, fish salmon, dig clams and gather at the kitchen table to enjoy local and in-season food procured on their very own.
Before Dylan and his wife had their daughter Skyla, Dylan realized that he was tired of the repetitive city life in Seattle, driving through tunnels and sitting in an office on a daily basis, missing the sunlight and warmth of the day.
He suddenly became extremely nostalgic about the outdoors as he was always fishing and gathering berries in the woods for his mom’s homemade pies as a child. Dylan and his pregnant wife moved to the island in Washington and decided to root themselves closer to the ground, appreciating their natural surroundings, while still being relatively close to the city.
The family didn’t completely isolate themselves from the modern world, as they still have cell phones, cable TV, and occasionally pay visits to the local grocery store. Through his book, Dylan ultimately illustrates how he hunts and gathers with his children, observes the weather, embraces natural history, and devours deliciously fresh meals in order to get himself back to nature while appreciating the things each particular season has to offer.
Excerpt from the chapter Winter- FIREWOOD IV: PRODUCTION
The stove is eating the firewood through our woodpile like a starving beaver. My distress grows with each trip to the shed as I watch formerly towering stack of dry wood dwindle away. After weeks of bitterly cold rain, a severe snowstorm blanketed the region, followed by a cold snap with temperatures into the teens.
We’ve been burning the stove around the clock. According to the weather service, the future holds more of the same. “The good news,” I report to Stacy with forced optimism, “is that we’ve only burned half our wood.” Then under my breath, “The bad news is, we’re less than a third of the way through winter.”
Our current wood production, which we won’t burn until next winter, is off to a promising start. Piles of round from a big fall cutting season lien the yard, and each morning, I grab the mail and split a few before starting work. On weekends, the kids and I stack the split wood in crisscross patterns to dry, If it gets windy and more trees come down, I’ll still go out and cut, but for the most part, wintertime is splitting season.
I have plenty of incentive to split wood before work. The average winter temperature in my unheated office hovers around forty degrees, and twice this month it has dropped enough that I had to break ice stalagmites from the sink. A quick chopping session gets the blood moving before I sit down at my desk.
Maybe you’ve heard the old saying about firewood warming you twice- when you split it and when you burn it? In my experience, it’s more like five times: cutting, hauling, splitting, stacking, and carrying it to the house all produce more than a little body heat. Add in the actual burning, and we’re up to sic. That’s a lot of warmth from one log.
A friend (and fellow wood rat) once wondered aloud why people spend money on both presplit cordwood delivery and gym memberships. I said it must save them time, and he pointed out that going to the gym isn’t without impact on the day planner. True.
On the other hand, guys who spend time in the gym tend to look better without shirts on than I do. And their workouts carry significantly less risk of ending with a hand-forged Scandinavian ax head imbedded in their shins. I’m okay with that. I just have to work carefully and keep my shirt on.
Right now, though I’m concerned with this year’s wood supply. A convergence of factors- the cold weather, my desire to have a warmer house (which seems to be increasing as I get older) and fishing too much last year- has created something of an inventory shortfall.
Of course, it’s not like we’re going to freeze. We can always crank up the furnace, which we’re already doing at this rate directly proportional to the woodpile shrinkage, but it feels like cheating.
More importantly, running the furnace 24/7 would put a dent in our bank account and I’m not sure we could repair. Somehow, I’m going to have to find the rarest of winter commodities in our dripping forest: dry, ready-to-burn-trees. I need a miracle.
A month ago, my friend Travis, in the process of showing off his new, state-of-the-art, all-steel peavey (a lever-and-swinging hook contraption for moving logs around), casually mentioned that he might know where to find some dry timber. I let it pass, not wanting to sound too eager and unsure of his firewood expertise.
For all I knew, he could be a greenwood burner. I might have been a little jealous of the gleaming peavey, too. Then the conversation got a little more serious. We debated the merits of full-skip chain-saw chains (fewer cutting teeth, higher speed, more danger) and moved on to a maul vs. wedge discussion. Finally, I asked, “What do you think of hemlock?” He wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Hate it,” he declared. Okay, then.
“So about that dry wood…” I asked, trying to sound as if I could take it or leave it. “Yeah,” he said, “I think it’s good to burn now, but it’s ugly. I mean, big, old gnarly firs that’ve been down for three years. In a huge pile.” Then he brightened: “We’ll definitely need the peavey.” He said he’d call when he was ready, but I didn’t hold my breath.
Travis calls just as I’m loading the woodstove and fighting to tamp down my desperation over our meager wood supply. I’m still skeptical of finding dry wood on the ground anywhere on the western Washington, but I grab my cutting gear and drive to the site through a light flurry of snow.
I can see that he was right about at least one thing: It’s ugly. And dangerous. Travis is standing on the road when I arrive, looking up at a logjam of enormous second-growth fir trees, each trunk held off the ground by others and clearly under tension in multiple directions. No wonder nobody’s claimed them.
We walk around the pile several times, trying to figure out the angles and pressure points. Gradually, a strategy for dismantling the logjam becomes clear, like the solution to a complicated equation.
First, using a measuring stick and pruning saw, we make 16-inch lengths along the exposed logs. Then I climb up to the top of the pile with a light chain saw to cut away limbs while Travis clears space at ground level with his big saw. When the top trees are free of branches, we use peavey to roll them down off the pile and into cutting position.
Snow keeps falling, and soon we’re working in a wonderland of white light muffled sound. It’s a rare cold, dry snow, a welcome relief from the usual muddy quagmire of winter cutting. The rounds are monstrous, some of them so thick that the 24-inch saw bar can’t reach all the way through, and each 16-inch lengths hits the ground with a thud we can feel through our boot soles.
We’re going to have to quarter the rounds in place just to move them. I start in with the maul and wedges, first splitting each round in half, then in half again. If I bend my legs and hug each quarter-round to my chest, I can just barely stand and stagger up the road with it.
Some miraculous combination of how the logs were suspended above wet ground and their intact bark has kept the wood dry and perfectly cured. I tap two smaller pieces together and the hollow ringing sound confirms our hopes. You couldn’t get better firewood if you dried it in a kiln. I feel like we’ve struck gold.
Buy this book on Amazon Closer to the Ground
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