How many times does firewood warm you? According to the old saying, it’s three times: It warms you once when you cut it, another time when you stack it and a third time when you finally burn it.
For most of us, cutting and stacking the winter’s wood is a chore. But for others living in the north country, it’s a work of art.
Take the iconic wood pile on Route 114 in East Burke. Everyone who has driven into the village knows the one; it is enormous and has a red bicycle embedded into it, so that the firewood arcs around the bike’s every turn and angle. In fact, it’s two red bicycles side-by-side to provide stability to the wood pile. And it’s a welcome sign to the thousands of mountain bikers who come to ride Kingdom Trails.
“It’s how I know I’ve entered bike heaven,” says Plainfield resident and mountain biker David Kelley of the artful landmark.
The impressive wood pile includes 100 cords of firewood. It’s the handiwork of Oscar Perkins, a longtime firewood supplier and resident of Burke. The 66-year-old cuts and splits all of the wood by himself, and every year, he sells the firewood to about 40 different customers in the area. Then, he builds a new pile the following year.
He has been stacking his wood along the main road like that for many years, but about five years ago, he added the bikes into the wood pile at the request of his daughter, Heidi Meyers. She’s a cyclist and co-founder of the wildly popular and ever-growing Rasputitsa Spring Classic, a gravel-road cycling race that brings thousands to the region every spring.
Meyers says her dad is meticulous about his wood pile. “My husband and I tease him that if we move one log, he’ll be able to tell.” She’s proud of her dad, too, whom she says does all the firewood work by himself, even though he’s missing two fingers and has suffered several serious health problems.
“I wanted to do it for her,” Perkins says about adding the bikes to his wood pile. But he also likes the impact it has on people.
“People stop in all the time, there’s lots of social activity around it. It makes it fun,” he says. Plus, it attracts firewood customers. The wood pile is so well known, in fact, that a neighbor was once on an international flight leaving from Philadelphia when she spotted the famous woodpile in a magazine article on the airplane, and she recognized it immediately.
Not far down the road, in Plainfield, longtime resident Dan Gadd has built the Eiffel Tower with his firewood. Set back from the road, on Hudson Avenue, about 3½ cords arch up toward the sky, with a curved walkway underneath. It’s about 25 feet tall, “but not as tall as I wanted it to be,” says Gadd.
He builds something unique out of firewood every year, and it’s always a surprise. “Even my wife doesn’t know what I’m planning for next year,” he laughs.
Last year, he built a type of aqueduct. His first structure was a small model of the Vermont State House. A few of his creations have had political messages as well, like bringing the Occupy Wall Street movement to his local street with Occupy Wood Stack. And he made a plug for Bernie Sanders a few years ago by building a replica of a firewood delivery truck with a sign on the back that read, “Feel the Burn.”
This year’s structure is built on top of several supports, including arches created from rebar hoops and metal fencing that helps hold it together. It’s important to support the heavy structure but still this year, it is leaning ever so slightly.
“The side facing the sun always shrinks more,” he explains.
Gadd brings his building experience to his wood pile structures; though he is a currently a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, he was a carpenter before that. But while his yearly structures are impressive, he says his actual wood pile, stacked up against the house and ready for the woodstove, isn’t as neat and sometimes it even falls over.
“I’m not as meticulous about that one,” he says.
With their firewood creations, it’s likely that Perkins and Gadd were warmed several extra times by their firewood, as they each moved and shaped their logs into masterpieces. The result is an artful addition to life, both for themselves and also for all who pass by. These marvels add something special, beyond the utilitarian purpose of a standard wood pile.
Gadd puts it all pretty simply, though. As for the creativity in front of his house, he says, “It’s kind of a hobby of mine. It’s just fun.”