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SMITH: Storing for winter a lost thought

Features column

We see the squirrels scampering about all spring and summer. We know what they are doing, but we look askance without a thought of what they are up to. Who in these times thinks about the importance of putting up for winter?

It was not long ago, in a more rural, agricultural era, that an enjoyable life depended on canning (later on freezing) our garden vegetables before the growing season ended; for those shorter days when staying inside made you appreciate having prepared for the cold months. We learned in school from Aesop about the ant and the grasshopper. All summer long, the ant was putting up for winter. The grasshopper spent his time singing and idling — only to become hungry in winter and begging the ant for food.

The weather is not always kind toward the farmer and agriculture. After years of extreme drought, we never thought we would see rain nearly every day, as we have during recent summer months. Too much rain ruined production of certain crops for all too many farmers.

The Farmers’ Almanac predicts this winter will be exceptionally cold. When I took to the Internet to see what the publication was saying about winter, I bumped into the most alarming forecast I have seen lately. The winter of 2013-14 is going to be the beginning of a “Little Ice Age.” The prediction, according to one Len R. Holliday, is that “extreme cold will be pulled down from the North Pole and pushed way south in the U.S.” We can expect temperatures to run 20 to 30 degrees below normal for the winter months.

What brought all this about was the good neighborly gesture of a friend. A small favor led to my being the recipient of a big favor from Coleman Hood, a onetime forester with an appreciation of a tranquil fire when the temperatures fall.

Over the years, my longtime friend Agnew Peacock has made sure there is access to firewood in winter. Agnew likes to do things for friends. For a while, I found him football tickets to a few games, and along about October, I would come home and see firewood stacked on my porch, neat and orderly; worthy of a photo.

Now Coleman has done the same thing. We had lost a beautiful hardwood, owing to the latent drought, and had saved up a goodly supply of big chunks of wood. The only problem was that it needed splitting, which I was planning to accomplish via someone who can readily handle such an assignment. One day, Coleman arrived in his pickup truck with a load of firewood. This meant that I had to start a new stack in a new place. I helped him unload the wood. I stood off to the side and admired it with humble gratitude, knowing the pleasure it would bring me this winter.

The next day, Coleman was in the neighborhood. He called to say that he would come split the hickory chunks. He did, and not only was I grateful, I watched him work, which brought about the deepest of respect as he took his big chisel and his axe to complete the assignment. Coleman is not a big man but his efforts were Bunyanesque. He now joins my friend Agnew in my “Good Neighbor Hall of Fame.”

My participation was very rewarding by the way, albeit very small. Just unloading and stacking firewood brought fulfillment. Every now and then, when I suggest that I go to the farmers’ market to buy some peas and shell them on the back porch, my wife usually reminds me that they are cheaper “at Kroger’s.” Maybe. However, I enjoy the fulfillment whenever I take on a homestead chore.

While I try to steer clear of doomsday talk, I believe that we should, in these uncertain times, teach our kids the value of industriousness and putting up for winter. Especially if Len Holliday knows what he is talking about.