For the past two weeks, two men and a chainsaw have been felling trees all over our 44 acres, winching them out of the woods with a tractor and pulling them down to the barnyard where they wait to be shaped into unmilled timber frame members over the next few months.
All the joists, rafter, posts and beams for our house were carefully culled from the woods – chosen because they were the right dimensions for a part of the house and because they needed to be thinned for the health of the woods.
It’s been an exciting process to watch, and the most dramatic part was saved until last – the felling of a stand of pines growing to the south of the house site. Planted by the previous owner about 20 years ago, they were destined for some pulp mill, but instead they will make up the rafters and decking boards of our house roof.
This pine stand was the first shelter we had when we first started coming out to our land. It provided shade and minimal rain protection. We kept our on-land tools out of sight in its depths. But we knew from the time we identified the building site, that they would have to come down before the house went up. It was a necessary step if we were going to be able to take advantage of an otherwise-beautiful exposure to the southern sky for both passive and active solar gain.
It was a bittersweet moment.
I had to keep reminding myself that felling them gives us the greenest possible roofing structure and the sunlight which we will put to good use in our passive solar design, solar hot water and heating and ultimately photovoltaic power.
What we didn’t think about before the pines started coming down was how much tree is left when we have taken the first 20 feet of the trunk. In some cases, another 20 feet of increasingly feathery branches towered up there, and was now piled on the ground.
Where the trees were felled in the woods, their tops have been made into piles that will provide wildlife habitat as they slowly go back to the earth, but in the house site, Doug and I have undertaken to clear the area by burning them.
Feeding a fire is an exhausting job, lopping and sawing these young kings of the plant world into branches we can drag and logs we can take between us and toss onto the top of the bonfire. I’m not thrilled about the carbon that has been released back into the atmosphere, but hopefully it will balance out when we are able to heat with only a tiny fraction of the fossil fuel normally required to survive a Wisconsin winter. In any event, whatever alternate commercial felling and milling process we might have substituted for this approach would surely have also involved a lot of carbon release.
Now the space is open for a portable mill to cut the roof decking boards and for construction equipment to get to the house site.
And for the first time, we can see the prospect down to the pond and across the small ravine that has been opened up in front of our house site. It’s a thrilling step on the path to building our new home.
Hope you had a Soulful Solstice and Wishing you a Merry Perihelion.