Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Wood Gatherer

My neighbor Sam, the wood gatherer. . .

Sam reminds me a bit of living in Turkey. I occasionally would go on solo motorcylce rides in the hills above our coastal town of Yalova. In later years as I looked at these hills, it dawned on me that I was seeing a denuded landscape that had once been covered mostly by forest. It wasn't like the lush, mossy forersts of the Cascades.

People had lived in the hills of Turkey so long that most of the trees had been cut centuries ago. But in some of the higher hills and foothills of the mountains to the south, there were still areas where people cut wood, mostly for use in the locally fabricated sheet metal cookstoves that doubled as heaters in the humble homes of farmers and shepherds that lived in the hill towns.

It's shocking to think that much of Afghanistan, a place that we think of today as being mostly rocky, barren and treeless, was once forested. We higher beings, we do leave traces of where we have been. They aren't always improvements.

The wood being cut in the Turkish hills was not big enough to require splitting: small trees, mostly, 2-3 inches in diameter. So it's striking to me that Sam, the eccentric boarder who lives in the house of my backyard neighbor Ed, is out every day with a wheelbarrow brining home small loads of similarly sized firewood.

Ed heats with wood. His '60's-era split level house with high ceilings was built with electric heat that is now too expensive for him to operate. So he burns piles of wood each season. When I replaced the aged wood fence (stained cedar) around two sides of our yard in 2008, it all got burned in Ed's fireplace. He's again gone through quite a stack of split firewood that was delivered to his lawn last fall.

And now Sam supplements that depleted stack with what she salvages from trees recently cut in a nearby 15-acre field that has remained unbuilt as long as we have lived here. It's like the third world has come back to suburbia. The other night as I walked down the street warming up for my usual run, I got a whiff of wood smoke and a slight cooking aroma. For just an instant, my senses were put back to a similar temperature, light level and moistness in the air.

I was in Yalova, Turkey again just for an instant. It was 1971 or 1972 again.

Sam just now returned with a wheelbarrow load of wood and her cat named Louie. She whistles a few bars of that old Kingsmen song "Louie, Louie" to her cat. After all, the song was born here in Portland. Sam's whistling helps Louie know that he is home.

The faint wood smoke aroma helps me know I am home here. It's a little like Yalova, Turkey every now and then. Home. Still and always.


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