The Inhabited Woodpile

My winter wood has arrived, cut, split and ready for the stove. Three cords to add my my part fourth cord left over from last year.  A cord of wood, for those who don’t know, measures 4 x 4 x8 feet in volume.  Wood provides my  winter heat. It takes about four cords to get through the cold season steadily feeding the roaring fire. Each block, solid and heavy, also provides a weight lifting workout whenever moved

The wood is dropped in the yard in a heap waiting to be stacked and covered with a tarp. While it sits there, the heap quickly becomes home to all sorts of little creatures who seek the safe dark spaces within. Ideal refuge, they think, from the dangers of the open world and unaware of how soon the haven will be dismantled.

Mouse giving me the stink eye for having to move out and start over this late in the year,

So, when I start picking up the wood to stack it, I uncover the miniature wildlife community that is busily establishing itself. Mice have already begun carrying in dry grass to build a cosy winter nest. Chipmunks bolt headlong across the grass for the safety of the bushes. Fat black crickets chirp in outrage and flee my giant shoes. Shiny brown earwigs with their pincer tails, prolific this year, scurry in droves deeper into the pile.

Salamander found hiding under a block of wood.

Wood that lies directly on the ground has its own fan club. Lift one up and discover it has been sheltering pink  earthworms, pale slugs and shiny brown millipedes that coil up instantly when touched.  And it’s not long before I uncover a salamander, dark, not even six inches long, with its four tiny legs and big eyes staring up at me. Sensitive to light and movement, it will skitter away as fast as its can in search of another block of wood to slide under. In the wild, dead logs provide winter shelter for such creatures, saving them underneath from deadly cold outside. This one has made an unfortunate mistake.

Garter snake soaking up autumn sunshine atop the pile. It needs to find a snake den soon.

On top of the pile, black and orange woolly bear caterpillars, thickly hairy, march busily along on their inscrutable autumn journeys.  At the very peak, a slender garter snake is stretched out, basking in the last of the year’s hot sunlight.  It will soon have to seek out the winter snake den deep in the limestone rock fissures under my neighbour’s fence post where masses of its fellows ball up together under the snow. Various blocks of wood sport greyish, many-legged wood lice, which, according to Wikipedia, are really crustaceans, working away at the punky parts. They, too, flee at once.

Common wood lice rudely exposed to daylight. They will bolt into darkness as fast as they can,

All of this community gets scattered when I take the wood from the heap to stack up elsewhere.  I know, however, that it will only take a short time before they find the stack and establish themselves again, settling into security — until I started feeding the stack to the wood stove and leaving then all open to the frigid winds once more. Wish I could put up a warning sign: “Lease ends in January. Set up house elsewhere or prepare to flash freeze.”

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