Week Of March 12th
Different people notice different things when they visit a foreign country. Some take particular notice of how the natives dress. Others are more interested in their manners - how polite or differential they are to tourists, in other words. Still other, perhaps more sophisticated travelers take an interest in the cuisine, architecture, or technological development of the nation they are visiting.
Me, I look at their farms.
Now this might sound like an odd thing for a man who has lived half of his life in the city to do but, as I plan on spending the final half on an isolated ranch, the way a rural Austrian chooses to store his hay for the winter takes has suddenly taken on a new and profound importance. On my recent trip to Europe, I was particularly impressed by the way the Swiss, Austrians, and Germans ran their family farms (yes, they still have those). Being all essentially rural Germans steeped in the same thousand-year-old traditions, the farmers of all three nations structure their affairs in almost exactly the same manner. They live in two-story, timber farmhouses of the distinct Alpine-style placed next to (or sometimes on top of) a massive stone-and-wood livestock barn. Surrounding these idyllic homesteads are 80 to 120 acres of meticulously cultivated land dotted with tiny hay barns about the size of a large shed. Apparently, this unusual arrangement is due to the fact that lighting strikes are so common in the Tyrolean region that a farmer looses a hay barn to fire every decade or so, necessitating what appears to the American eye to be a bizarre an inefficient method of storage.
I found the German method of firewood storage in particular to be interesting. Our resourceful Teutonic cousins build distinct cord-and-a-half firewood sheds everywhere there is a spare wall or open area at the edge of a field (of course, trees are very plentiful in the mighty Alps, unlike my poor Granites, where they are a precious commodity indeed). Mostly, they are rectangular structures covered by corrugated tin roofs, though I saw some more ornate and elaborate versions in (naturally) Switzerland. It goes without saying that the firewood within is cut to precisely the same length, then sorted and stacked by its diameter and type of cut: the quarter logs in one section, the half logs in another, and so forth.
All very neat and German, which is basically the same thing in any case.
I felt so inspired by the Tyrolean style of firewood shed that, as soon as I got back to Midian Ranch, I immediately built one. We’ve always had a hard time keeping firewood dry during the winter (it’s not hard during the summer, believe me), and neither Tina nor I want firewood stacked up against the ranch house for fear of termite infestation. I even had a nicely sorted stack of thin, pliable metal available to work with; the remnants of our former Downtown generator shed. My “alpine shed” has stood up to a month of Black Rock Desert winds without any ill effect. Now all I have to do is fill it!