With the solstice a couple days behind us, I can feel earth’s tilt away from the sun in the guise of breath-stealing cold and wind. Looking out a window, I find my thermometer stuck in digits lower than I’ve seen for the better part of a year. The media spice their forecasts with wind chill factor readings that more accurately describe the shivery weather. But inasmuch as the sharpness of any given moment depends also on the amount of sunlight and cloud cover, a true measure of cold seems elusive. So, I like to gauge the frostiness of the days by the state of local woodpiles.
A house heating with wood is easy to distinguish from its neighbors. You don’t have to be invited inside or pull the assessor’s file to know who lacks a fireplace, has an occasional aesthetic fire at their hearth, and who actually heats with wood. Even in summer when chimney smoke is a distant memory, the woodpile is a revelation.
A woodpile is a year around reminder of winter, evidence of what it takes to keep warm through the vicissitudes of New England’s harshest months. By early November woodpiles are usually at their apex. The rate at which they disappear and their orderliness are measures of the season’s rigors.