Kindling Sticks

Photographed 1 February 2006

I use these sticks to start fires. I gather them from my yard. I break them with my body.

Click to view a larger version of this stick pile: 24-inch x 22-inch photo

I like to make fires in my living room fireplace. I make a fire almost every night--and many afternoons, too--during winter. How I make fires requires kindling--a layer or two of small pieces of wood to get the fire going and to set fire to larger logs. Small dried-out sticks from tree branches make very good natural kindling. So I have picked up the habit of gathering fallen branches from the trees in my yard, storing them in a clump, and then periodically breaking them into shorter lengths (12 - 20-inches) and stacking them in a circular metal-hoop frame. The frame is on my back deck under enough roof to keep the pile dry from rain or snow.

Whenever I gather the branches (often after a storm) and when I break them into smaller sticks and stack them, I always feel that I am participating in a task and a ritual that is as old as humans. Surely gathering sticks for fires is a basic human activity that has been repeated for thousands of years.

I really like the look of a pile of sticks. So I photographed this bunch right after replenishing the entire hoop (this winter it looks like I may burn my way through two hoops of kindling plus some commercial kindling I sometimes buy). Almost all of these sticks were broken from larger sticks using only the mechanics and force of my body. Either broken by bending between my hands, broken using my knee as a fulcrum, or broken with my foot propping the branch up at a 45-degre angle between my deck and the brick wall of the house. Generally, the branches that fall off the trees from wind and storm and other natural causes are already dead, so the wood is dried out, less dense than green wood, and is easier to break. A few of the thicker and greener branches I will saw (I use either a hand saw or an electric chain saw to do this--and you can see a couple of these in the photo above). I do buy some commercial kindling and use it when I am starting the season or low on my own sticks, but really prefer to make fires with kindling from my own yard. Somehow fires made with "my own kindling" seem more authentic or basic to me and I enjoy making them more than when I use commercial kindling.

Photographed 12 November 2006

Click to view a larger version of this stick pile: 24-inch x 22-inch photo

We had a windy storm at the beginning of December. I went around our yard and the neighborhood gathering fallen branches and piled them on the slate table on our deck. Photographed 3 December 2006.

The piles of kindling sticks remind me of the nature art of the Scottish artist, Andrew Goldsworthy. Janice and I discovered some of Andy Goldworthy's books at a Ralph Lauren furniture store about 10 years ago and fell in love with his work. If you like the photo of my sticks, you may like Andy Goldsworthy's work--using nature as his canvas, the artist creates works of transcendent beauty. You can find some images and examples of his work here. You can find his beautiful books here.

The Firewood


Although I do not harvest, cut, or split any of the five to six cords of firewood that I use every winter, I do stack all of my wood myself. I really enjoy stacking firewood. I really enjoy it. I may actually achieve some "flow" while stacking the wood (often while listening to music through headphones). I find the small decisions made in stacking and fitting the wood pieces together to be a combination of a physical judgment (e.g., this piece fits here) and an aesthetic judgment (e.g., how will the end of this log look here?).

A man and his wood stack. April, 2002.

Same man. Different wood stack. May, 2007.

© 2007