There’s timber everywhere at the moment. The storm that tore through Scotland a few weeks ago wrenched thousands of trees from the ground – rich pickings for anyone with a chainsaw. The other afternoon I took a walk up to the old forest to see how it had fared and to scout out the firewood situation.
The casualties lay like sleeping giants, their roots dangling indecently in mid air, exposed, for the first time, to the elements. One Goliath had snapped and twisted, forming a perfect archway. Another had fallen into a dell, taking its siblings down with it. In front of me an ancient oak was on its side, creamy-white innards spilling out from the gash in its trunk. I could almost hear its life, its sap, seeping out. I sat down on a stone and listened to the muted mossy quiet of the wood, thinking how different it must have sounded on the night of the storm when the wind howled and the trees thrashed and crashed in the darkness.
There was a note of sadness in the air, of resignation. But stronger than this was the sense of endurance – the trunks of the trees that stood were like solid fists punched deep into the ground. The sun came out for a moment, shining on the silver of a birch that had fallen into its neighbour’s arms. The dishevelled wood glowed and the whisper of warmth was a reminder of regeneration, of the spring that will come.
I’d brought my little hand saw along with me and I worked away at a fallen bough. It felt timeless, almost magical, to be deep in the wild wood carrying out the age-old tradition of foraging for fuel. I gathered an ikea-bagful – just a gesture really – to store and season for next winter. When I got home I did a quick Google into the legality of collecting dead wood from forests. If it’s private land you need to ask the owner’s permission and if it’s Forestry Commission you apply, in some cases, for a scavenger’s licence. But I can’t imagine that collecting a handful of sticks and twigs and fallen logs to put in your fire is going to bother anyone, as long as there’s plenty left for the forest beasties to live in.