Steve Braunias gets set for winter with a fire harvest
Right now, the whole house smells as sharp as the ocean, as sweet as a chocolate factory, as rich as a great dark forest. Barry delivered my annual order of firewood the other day, and I stacked it in the garage. The scent of it was quite light at first but it grew stronger and stronger and, by evening, the house was filled with a mad, intoxicating perfume. It's obviously strongest in the garage but it follows you up the stairs like smoke, lightly touching every surface, longing to find ultimate release in the fireplace.
Good old Barry. He doesn't wear a shirt and he's got long hair and drives a beat-up truck with trailer. He seems like he might be the happiest man you could hope to meet in a long day's march. He arrives every summer with two cubic metres – actually last year I was feeling a bit anxious about my budget, because unlike firewood, money doesn't grow on trees, so I only ordered 1sq m. It lasted through winter - but only just - and I had to be scrupulous. My idea of a house fire is a towering inferno, a pit of hell with sparks and explosions and enormous columns of flame; last year, I put hell on a leash.
Already the whole house feels warmed up just by the sweet sticky scent of the firewood stack. In a certain light, when sunlight curls up on the garage floor, a faint heatwave buckles the air in front of the wood. The stack is like some kind of engine, or some kind of beast. It produces heat just in the way it crouches there. It radiates like a sun. I've got a planet in the garage.
Some people stack their firewood in sheds or up against the house or beneath a lean-to. It's a nice enough sight. But the best place to stack firewood is inside the garage. You want it close to hand, you want it giving off its scent and its warmth, you want to view it as a kind of indoor furniture. It's a sculpture, it's a work of art. "You've got pine, you've got macrocarpa, you've got gum," Barry said. "You've got willow, you've got mānuka, you've got oak." I've got an arboretum in the garage.
A note on stacking. My good friend Sir Bob Harvey inspected the wood stack in my garage last year and had the gall to pronounce it not up to standard, that it was irregular, not neat enough, not proper. I ought to have thrown him out of the house. I go to a lot of trouble to stack in nice, clean lines – unlike Sir Bob, who I visited recently and observed that his own woodpile was a disgrace to order and civility. Men have been stripped of their knighthoods for less.
Some people don't get in their firewood until autumn. That's crazy. It has to be harvested right now. You want the firewood delivered in the long daylight of summer, when it's warm to the touch, and then stacked away for a good few months to completely and utterly dry out. "Firewood should have less than 25 per cent moisture," states Consumer. "You can buy inexpensive moisture meters, which let you check the moisture content of firewood you are about to buy or burn." A moisture meter! Oh, for heaven's sake. There's no need. Buy now, stack now. Wet firewood is high in the catalogue of grave sins; pity the householder vainly trying to get damp timbers alight on a cold winter's evening.
Pity, more so, the householders without a fireplace. Lighting fires is an essence of New Zealandness; to live in our southern oceans near the icelands of Antarctica is to chop, gather, stack and burn wood for heat. It's town and country, it's the truck and trailer, it's the lead story of winter. The first chapter begins now. I've got the wood delivered. It smells so good, so warm, so promising. I've got a fire in the garage.