Norwegian Wood

Lars Mytting

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Fun, short book about wood shopping, stacking, and drying. If you're looking for some Norwegian history told through the story of one of it's largest resources, pick this one up.


It was the wood. All his life, he chopped his own firewood. And although he put away his chainsaw for good now, he still enjoyed the feel of each log in his hand. The smell that made him feel he was at work inside a poem. The sense of security in his stack. The pleasing thought of the winter that lay ahead with all those hours of sitting contentedly in front of his wood burning stove.

Even in oil-rich Norway an astonishing 25 percent of the energy used to heat private homes comes from wood. And half of that is wood chopped by private individuals. So the consumption of wood in present day Scandinavia is not great. It is enormous.

Something else to consider is the way the wood-burning stove brings people into a very direct relationship with the weather. You are your own thermostat. You are the connecting link between the subzero temperatures outside and the relative warmth within. When you heat with wood, you have to go out to the woodpile, come back in again, and start your fight against the cold. It's bitter and it bites but you can do something about it.

For this reason, every house in Norway exceeding a certain size is obliged by law to have an alternative source of heating which in practice means a woodstove. The requirement comes not as one might think, from the building standards department, but from the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning and the explanation for this is quite simple: a woodstove and a supply of firewood will prevent the spread of panic and the possibility of having to evacuate homes. And this is not merely because wood is a source of energy. It is because wood is an extremely adaptable form of energy. It can be shared with your neighbor. It doesn't leak. It doesn't need cable. A match will light it. It can be stored for year after year. And even inferior quality wood will still do the job for you.

Stacking is an aesthetic and a practical challenge. So much so that in the late 19th century, in the heavily forested state of Maine, young American women considering a potential husband were advised first to consult a piece of folksy wisdom that revealed the young man's character based on the way he stacked his wood. In old Scandinavia, it is also common wisdom that you can tell a lot about a person from his woodpile.

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