Lombardi Column: She’s warmed by roadside firewood

There they stand, lonely and cold, at the sides of North Fork roads. Sometimes snow-covered and assailed by winter winds. Scores of cars pass by, perhaps hundreds, before a pickup truck slows, pulls over, stops. The driver emerges, buttoning up his jacket, pulling on his gloves, reaching for his wallet.

He is about to make a purchase. A purchase rescuing a stack of North Fork firewood from frozen oblivion, bringing it to warmth and life in a North Fork home. Therein blazes a lot of work and a bit of magic.

Go slow at the intersection of Main Road and Locust Avenue in Mattituck. Behind the small stand of wood by the side of the road, a farm field seems to stretch to the bay. At 4 p.m. on a winter’s day, the sun declining, a golden glow lights the field, as if the wood was already burning. A few leaves scatter over the field — no snow, but maybe tomorrow.

Comes by now a gray pickup, a Korean vet sticker on its tailgate. I think back to the ’50s and the young U.S. Marine I knew, Charles Vincent Nejedly was his name, one of many who died on deep-snow battlefields in Korea. Then I think of this North Fork Korean vet stopping by for wood and warmth. How blessed he is, as am I.

There must be considerable warmth on Osborn Avenue in Riverhead if one is to judge by the number of “WOOD” signs. One in particular attracts me, perhaps because it’s so lonesome looking. This wood is piled in a wheelbarrow near the road in front of a home set way back. All the action seems to be in the back, too. Logs waiting to be cut, tools on sawhorses, a shed — all signifying someone was working hard and then just stopped. Maybe gone inside for a hot soup lunch on this cold day.

Passersby might stop, put their money in a box and bring home comfort. By the way, all the wood stacks I sight are accompanied by an on-your-honor money box. Rarely is there a woodsman to chat with, to thank. So different from most summer farm stands, full of color and sun and often providing conversation with the farmer.

While I don’t see a jeans and flannel-shirted guy with an ax at this next stack spot, I know full well someone valued the wood he had split. For it is stacked neatly in a small, very small, barn-red shed, protecting it from the bitter wind blowing the day I came by. On the north side of Main Road, hard by Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, the shed is filled with wood and in the fields beyond are logs piled higher than I am tall. Reassuring in the midst of winter, this North Fork bounty.

The next firewood stop is just a few feet east of Southold Town police headquarters. There are good folks inside, but they may be peeking out of the windows.

A big sign reads “WE GOT YOUR WOOD HERE.” That’s nice and friendly, I think. Old oak and maple trees, leafless, surround the pile. How I hope they’re never chopped down. Across Main Road, evergreens hide a vineyard, quiet now, it seems, but we know better.

About this particular woodpile’s location, next to police headquarters? Forgive me, but it’s rather like warming up right next to the cooler.

Two tiny dogs, one white, one black, guard the WOOD-FOR-SALE spot in front of a home on Pequash Avenue in Cutchogue. They’re happy, those two, racing around the stacks and just avoiding tipping over the coffee can collecting cash.

Despite the wind and the obvious need for more firewood on this cold morning, I can’t help noticing the white wicker furniture still out on the home’s front porch. In the road is parked a small yellow car — several shades brighter than the cream cedar-shingled home. I think of summer past and summer to come. Thank you, four-streets-away neighbor.

Indeed, thanks to tree growers, harvesters, splitters and stackers, and to those who tend our fireplaces and wood stoves. You provide our winter warmth, the magic spark keeping the North Fork burning with love.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.