Pinciaro Column: Some life lessons from a pile of wood

Fans of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” will recall the season seven finale when Larry David, accused of leaving a water mark on Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ wooden table, sets out to discover who really committed the deed. “Do you respect wood?” he asks several of his former “Seinfeld” colleagues. Conversations about wood discrimination ensue — leaving water marks on low-grade wood is OK, Jerry Seinfeld says; Larry expresses his adoration for all kinds of wood — and eventually finds out his wife is the sought-after water mark suspect. 

I’ve learned to respect wood a lot this winter. In fact, my woodpile and I have formed what might be described by some as a strange relationship that has caused similar Larry David moments in the Pinciaro household.

“If I hear about that woodpile one more time …” I’ve been warned by my wife on more than one occasion.

The home we bought nearly two years ago runs entirely on electric heat. Our first year in the home, we said we’d see how much one winter cost us in electric charges before making any changes.

Needless to say, it didn’t take long after that winter — or rather, after we started getting our electric bills — for us to go shopping around for new heating systems. The bills were high (one monthly bill topped $550!) and the heat was already very low in the rooms we even kept heated.

So in the spring we ended up purchasing a wood fireplace insert to heat our home.

The yard was overgrown when my wife and I moved in. We literally could not see our neighbors behind us. And after chopping and hauling brush away, we eventually cleared enough of the yard — though plenty of work remains — to get to the point of chopping some trees. So we’ve been fortunate enough to have, at least up to this point in the winter, pretty much all of the wood at no cost, minus a new chainsaw.

Having a woodpile has taught me a few lessons I didn’t expect when I got this fireplace insert that turning up my thermometer never really afforded me.

For instance, planning: While much of the wood has been free since I cut and chopped it myself (with the help of a friend’s splitter), it still needs somewhere to go in our yard — which is not very flat. Since our mess of a yard was basically open for any kind of new plan, this required somewhere not only to stack it, but somewhere to build a shelter for it — a project that took a fair amount of planning and work. Rain and snow are not friends to a woodpile; besides being unable to burn it hot enough, wet wood builds up creosote, a kind of tar, in chimneys, which can lead to chimney fires.

On top of planning, my woodpile has taught me patience. Wood takes a long time to dry out completely. Along the same lines of planning, you have to be patient enough before burning it to actually wait for the wood to dry out after you cut and stack it. And if I’m expecting rain tomorrow, planning ahead to bring in fuel for the fire today makes more sense than waiting until I’m going out in the rain.

And there’s a certain kind of “oneness” with the universe that comes part and parcel with watching, hearing and feeling a fire heat up your home on a cold day, too. This one’s hard to explain; it’s more of a feeling, and I’m sure it’s not for everyone. It’s certainly much easier to turn the knob on the thermostat, and maybe it’s something I’ll prefer to do once Jack Frost really comes to town and there’s 12 inches of snow on the ground.

For now, at least, I’m with Larry David.

“I revere wood!” he exclaimed to Seinfeld when challenged about his respect for it.

Me too.

Pinciaro_Joe.jpgJoseph Pinciaro is the managing editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at 354-8024.