Moss in the Woodpile


We heat with wood. Each winter half of our small cottage is closed off so only two rooms are warmed. We gather kindling and hoard newspaper. In the morning, we use the remaining coals to restart the fire. We set our tea to boil on the stovetop and snowy boots dry nearby.

Each log that goes into the fire means something--the red maple that the power company inexplicably cut, the black birch that fell to our sorrow, the hickory that was so difficult to split.

My parents quip that wood is Polish gold. My father is Polish. He has his stash in the garage. I have my own collection: sun-bleached tulip branches debarked by grey squirrels (their starkness sparkles my eye everytime), red cedar branches too gnarled and short for fence posts (saved from a bonfire pile), and others. Jared's contribution is an eight foot long staghorn sumac pole that garnered sympathy by spontaneously sprouting leaves about four months after being cut.

The woodpile is also subject to examination: a maple with beautiful spalting (maybe I'll save it for woodworking), a stump with a knot and heartwood chewed open by ants (perfect for a birdhouse), tulip poplar with yellow, green and purple grain (useful, if not just to admire). None of these will keep me warm tonight, each will go into the save pile.

Finally, I find a piece that can go into the fire. It is late, getting chilly, and the fire needs fuel. I stop to admire the verdant carpet of moss on the bark of the ash log in my hands. The tarp blew off the woodpile, and so the log is damp. The moss is vibrant.

Moss grows underneath the maple in front of the cottage. Nothing else grows in that compacted soil. Moss grows on top of the roof on the asphalt shingles. Moss grows upon the tiny clay oven we built in the backyard. Moss grows by the pond where the land reminds me of my grandparent's home in South Jersey.

The ash in my hands is dead, girdled by a forester who prefers oaks. The moss is alive. Its orange sporophytes toss thousands of spores into the air, waiting for rain, sun, and a fissure in a rock or the bark of another ash.

Into the save pile with this one. It will wait there until I have time to peel the bark off.