North Country math

IMG_1703The good news is that the tree fell exactly where I wanted. The not-so-good news is that it takes a long, hot, weary day of work to cut up a 16-inch red elm tree even when it falls along the length of the driveway. 

North Country math

Remember those “word problems” we all had to solve in elementary school? They were really math problems, but a student had to read the paragraph that presented some strange predicament –

Tommy has enough money to buy three candy bars but he has five friends…

– and then compose a mathematical formula that would solve it:

Tommy + 5 friends = 6 kids; 3 candy bars ÷ 6 kids = 1/2 candy bar each; ergo  X = 3÷ (5+1)

Heady stuff these first lessons that revealed to us, the blindly optimistic baby boom generation, the promise of our potential to solve all the great problems facing mankind with a bit of logic and clever application of algebra. Although we knew even then, from harsh first-hand experience, that the odds of Tommy sharing his three candy bars with five friends in the real world would be about the same as the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series.

As a flashback to that more innocent and hopeful time, here is a North Country “word problem” for you to solve.

A Curmudgeon heats his North Country farm house in the winter with a wood stove, and he cuts down dead trees on his property to provide the firewood.

The average amount of firewood produced by one tree is 1/4 cord.

During a North Country winter, the Curmudgeon burns about four cords of wood in his stove.

When he was young, the Curmudgeon would fell one dead tree each week during the summer and cut it into firewood.

Now that he is old, the Curmudgeon can cut only one tree every other week during the summer.

Question 1: How many weeks did it take for the Curmudgeon to cut his winter firewood when he was young?

Question 2: How many weeks does it take for the Curmudgeon to cut his winter firewood now that he is old?

Extra credit: Winter is 24 weeks long in the North Country. How many weeks will the old Curmudgeon be cutting firewood in the bitter cold of winter?

Double extra credit: How does the sequence of numbers 5633828092 relate to the solution to this problem?


Question 1:    4 ÷ .25 = 16 weeks

Question 2:    (4 ÷ .25) x 2 = 32 weeks

Extra credit:   X = (24+32) – 52

Double extra credit:    5633828092 is the telephone number of the local LP Gas company in the North Country.

After willfully ignoring for four years the dead elm tree leaning over our driveway, I decided that this was the day it should be felled and cut into firewood. The National Weather Service forecast today for the North Country was sunny, 86 degrees, and 90 percent humidity, but I reasoned that the driveway would be shaded by the six walnut trees that border it, and there would be a cool wind blowing.

The temperature in the shade was a chilly 82 degrees, and the wind felt like the flames of hell billowing from a Pittsburgh steel mill blast furnace. The good news is that the tree fell exactly where I wanted. The not-so-good news is that it takes a long, hot, weary day of work to cut up a 16-inch red elm tree even when it falls along the length of the driveway.

At 4 p.m. I briefly debated the pros and cons of stopping work for the day and drinking two or three cold beers. I am pleased to announce that that affirmative team won the debate. Handily.

The red elm wood cuts still need to be hauled to the splitting pile, and then to the wood stacks by the farm house. In the cool of the evening, I may do that.

Or mañana.


More stories about life in the North Country, hunting, bird dogs, and bird guns are published in my two collections of essays, Crazy Old Coot and Old Coots Never Forget, and my novel, Hunting Birds. All are available in Kindle and paperback editions at

About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Former teacher, coach, mentor. Novelist and short story writer. Husband, father, grandfather.
This entry was posted in Firewood, North Country Math. Wood Cutting and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to North Country math

  1. Thom Hickey says:

    Immensely entertaining! Thanks and keep warm. Thom.

  2. Thanks, Thom. Today I’m loafing and taking ibuprofen. 🙂

  3. Duane says:

    I always thought that cutting firewood gave you the benefit of getting heated twice I just expected you to be smart enough to do that during the winter and not when It was already hot during the summer. I do applaud your medicinal use of cold beer to sooth blisters that I’m sure sprang forth on your hands after a hard days labor.

    • You thought I was smart? Ha! The firewood cycle warms you many times: felling, cutting, splitting, stacking — with hauling between each of the procedures. An icy cold beer bottle, combined with defibrillation, does seem to have a cooling effect.

  4. MSK says:

    My favorite part of this article had to do with the beers consumed. Otherwise, I was a math flunky. 🙂

  5. Don says:

    This is how I originally destroyed my back. I cut down a dead pine tree, and dug up the roots. Decided I would just wrestle the stump to the front yard for disposal. Something went sproing and that was that. The last official day of my youth.

  6. Don – it had to happen sometime. If you couldn’t wreck your back while rescuing a beautiful barmaid from a collapsing bodega during a Los Angeles earthquake, wrestling a pine tree stump was not a bad second option. Better than lifting a basket of books from the overnight return bin at the library.

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