Friday, September 24, 2010

"Ooooh, Sticks!"

Some people like to take casual strolls in Milwaukee's lovely parks and along its waterways. Others go for a jog near Bradford Beach at the Lake Michigan shoreline. Civic-minded volunteers pick up trash and litter in public areas, working together toward the laudable goal of urban beautification.

My Beloved Spousal Unit and I pick up sticks.

Not just any sticks; dead sticks. Burnable sticks. Burnable-in-the-fireplace sticks. Burnable-so-that-even-a-former-Boy-Scout-who-never-made-Second-Class-can-start-a-fire-with-two-matches sticks.

Last winter was our first season as domestic fireplace operators. Our large firewood supply held out fine, but we ran out of sticks. They sell firewood by the face cord; who sells sticks? So, we fetch sticks.

The other day I voted in the Primaries. On my half-mile walk to the polling place, I saw an eight-foot fallen branch, an inch-and-a-half or so in diameter, the late mother-limb of several baby limbs of useful dimension, sitting at the side of the road; an obvious casualty of the prior evening's thunderstorms. A veritable treasure-trove of sticks -- for free! -- merely three blocks up from our place.

The calculations began: If I pass it by, walk the three remaining blocks to vote, and walk back, will the branch still be there? Should I haul the branch home first, and then restart my trek -- a gambit which might tempt this proud but lazy citizen to say the hell with voting? Or do I claim the branch, drag it to the polling station, leave it outside with the slogan-sign mules and pamphleteers -- they'll surely know better than to mess with a branch-wielding loony, won't they? -- and then drag it all the way back home? This is how the branch-addict thinks.

I'm not sure who was more thrilled: I, when I saw that my branch was still waiting for me on the way back, or my Beloved Spousal Unit, when she saw that I'd actually performed a useful act of hunting and gathering.

          When a poor man came in sight,
          Gath'ring winter fue-ue-el!

I asked a timber-owning friend, The Tin Woodsman of Upstate N.Y., whether my wonderful branch and its many sublime sub-limbs would air-dry in time to use in our fireplace this season. Taking pity, he provided remedial education: "Some species such as oak take more time to dry because of their grain (xylem cell) structure, beech is fairly fast drying, and maple is sort-of average." He further advised me, in a kind voice -- or would have, had he not been responding via email -- that my splendid prize, which I'd spent a highly inefficient 45 minutes dismembering and cutting to length with a dull pruning saw, "may not amount to much volume."

Hmmph, I thought. The Tin Woodsman may know his xylem and phloem, but I say he knows nada about sticks.

Today, the autumn wind is howling. Returning from errands, my Beloved Spousal Unit and I stepped out of the Silver Zloty in front of our home. Instantly, our eyes fell upon a cornucopia of future kindling on the street and sidewalk. "Ooooh, sticks!" said the two highly-educated professionals, in unison. We can hardly wait for the first ice storm of the season.

The General Election is a month-and-a-half away. In six weeks, I'll walk six blocks to vote for the candidate who promises us the most sticks.

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