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Some people bake bread. Others go for long walks. Still others play chess or Scrabble. For me, the best pandemic therapy is making firewood. Weekends this fall found me at a country cabin happily felling, bucking, splitting and stacking, with case counts and red zones the farthest thing from my mind.

I’m an unlikely lumberjack. A turtleneck-wearing, streetcar-riding, craft beer-sipping city boy, I can barely hammer a nail. For anything more complicated than hanging a picture, I usually hire someone. For years we simply bought firewood on our way to the cabin, overlooking the wooden wealth all around us.

Then I tripped across a fascinating book. Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way is an extended essay on the art and science of turning forests into firewood. It was a surprise bestseller for novelist Lars Mytting when it came out in 2011. Mr. Mytting mixes practical advice about what kinds of wood burn best, what time of year to cut it and how to stack it properly with philosophical asides about the pleasures of this age-old form of labour.

Wood cutting is almost a cult in Scandinavia. Mr. Mytting says that debates over whether to stack split logs with the bark facing up or down have “marred many a christening and spoiled many a wedding.”

Norway consumes 300 kilos of firewood per capita, even though the country is rich in oil. A quarter of the energy used to heat homes comes from wood and half of that is harvested by individual woodcutters. If all the wood Norwegians use in a year were stacked together, Mr. Mytting tells us, the resulting woodpile would stretch from Oslo to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Norwegian woodpiles can be a thing of beauty. Mr. Mytting’s book is sprinkled with pictures of the piles that his obsessed compatriots build, from simple rows of logs to towering beehives to a long stack in the shape of a giant fish. Many woodcutters place their stack so they can see it from the kitchen window and drink in the view.

The author observes that a woodpile is something you can rely on no matter what. “Its share price doesn’t fall on the stock market. It won’t rust. It won’t sue for divorce,” he writes. “It just stands there and does one thing: it waits for winter. An investment account reminding you of all the hard work you’ve put into it.”

Norwegian Wood inspired me to build a pile of my own. The cabin is surrounded by a small woodlot with a good variety of mature trees: maples, birches, pines. My sister-in-law and her cousin planted many of them 50 years ago under the orders of their formidable aunt, who built the little A-frame in a scrubby farmer’s field as a summer getaway. Some are now just the right size for firewood – thick enough to make decent logs, but not so thick that they are hard to topple.

So every autumn I organize a family work party to take down a few trees. Each part of the job is a pleasure in its own way. The chainsaw makes fast work of even the toughest wood, provided that you keep it properly sharpened. I use a compact little unit from Stihl, the German manufacturer named after Andreas Stihl, who patented the first electric chainsaw in 1926. If you cut a good notch on one side of the tree, then saw through from the other side, the tree should fall in just the place you want it, coming down with a great swoosh and an earth-shaking thud.

Splitting is just as satisfying. Logs need to be split. Otherwise they won’t dry when you stack them. Moist firewood hisses when you put it in the stove. That is the sound of failure. It means the wood won’t generate the heat that it should: 4.2 kilowatts per kilogram.

Purists split their wood by standing their logs on a stump and attacking them with an axe the pioneer way. I use an electric-powered hydraulic wood splitter, a marvellous machine that lowers the risk of cutting off a toe. It pushes the log into a metal wedge until, with a delicious crack, it splits in two. Everyone who operates it gets hooked.

Then comes the stacking. Lacking the skill to make a fish out of firewood – much less the log portrait of the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini shown on one page of Norwegian Wood – I pile our split logs against the tool shed under an overhanging roof. Softwood goes on the left side, denser, slower-burning hardwood on the right, with a bin in between for misshapen pieces that won’t stack well. This, too, is rewarding work: carrying the logs from splitter to stack, placing the logs so they fit like puzzle pieces into the pile, watching the stack grow.

We have a kind of assembly line now. One set of workers fells, delimbs and bucks the tree – cuts it into woodstove-sized pieces. Another carries, splits and stacks. The chainsaw whines, the splitter hums, the logs crack. Not a word is said about infection rates or lockdown rules.

As Mr. Mytting notes, “Cutting wood is proper work, something people can do together, and there can be few jobs where the results are visible so soon after the effort is made.”

Ours is an amateur, thoroughly un-Norwegian effort, I’ll admit. If, as Mr. Mytting suggests, a person can be judged by his woodpile, I would come off poorly. Mine is a solid but inelegant construction. Still, it gives me a good feeling to know it is there.

As the months pass, wind and sun will do their work on all those logs. Cracks will appear in the ends, a sign the wood is drying and shrinking. Bang them together and they will give what Mr. Mytting calls a hard, ringing sound, quite unlike the dull thump of unseasoned wood, that signals they are ready for the stove.

The world may be in a mess, but up there at the cabin, the woodpile waits.

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