Brad Withrow-Robinson, Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Agent, Benton, Linn and Polk Counties.
I was given Norwegian Wood this summer. No, not the Beatles’ famous 1965 single about a John Lennon romance. The gift is a book about the Scandinavian romance with firewood. Its full title is “Norwegian Wood: chopping, stacking and drying wood the Scandinavian way” (by Lars Mytting). I loved it. I would probably hesitate to admit that to most people, but Tree Topics and Compass readers are not most people. You are wood people and will understand.
Norwegian Wood is an embrace of all things firewood. It delves into the historic Scandinavian reliance on wood to heat hearth and home when having enough wood on hand (at far northern latitudes) was a matter of life and death. That dependence seems to still shape the collective Scandinavian psyche. People there respect wood.
Mytting opens the book with a story of where his own journey of discovery about wood began, a story of an elderly neighbor for whom the annual ritual of putting in the wood was a tonic, giving him renewed purpose and energy. He goes on to describe the process of making firewood, the various kind of trees, the preferred tools (and some evolutionary history of chainsaws and axes), the advantages of different cutting, hauling, covering, stacking, stove design and fire building practices.
But especially stacking. The book abounds in handsome photos of woodpiles, with descriptions of the different methods of stacking. It also has analysis (including citation of studies by the Norwegian Institute of Wood Technology) of various approaches. The book includes stories of rural Norwegians, at least a couple octogenarians for whom making firewood remains a significant task, whatever the Doctor says. A person may get too old for many things, but not too old for stacking firewood it seems.
There is no question that for many Norwegians and Swedes, firewood is not just necessity. It is a matter of pride and even art. It is almost scary. Many people there, perhaps even the culture as a whole seems to be suffering from a particular form of the Wood Sickness.
So I recommend the book to anyone who uses wood, but does so with some degree of attachment beyond the mere utility of it. This book is for us. The topic is familiar, but the cultural context, tradition and ecological context (Scandinavia v Oregon) all make it fresh and entertaining reading that will give you new insight to something familiar.