Five Hundred Years of Sun

piñon pitchwood

Take a good look and don’t forget

Behold the magic piñon! Do you have any idea what you’re looking at? The dark areas are crystallized resin. You can see it extending in a shallow curve across the cut face of the wood. This particular piece is about five inches wide. It came from the top of a mountain and was probably here when Columbus showed up. My friend only cuts standing or naturally-felled dead trees. In this climate, they cure to perfection and take eons to rot. Some of the trees have pitchwood like this. What I do is split it up small enough to break the pieces in two and use them for fire starters. It’s just insane how well this works.

A piece will ignite with a sputtering hiss like lighting a fuse. In the morning I light one, prop it up against a chunk of piñon, lay another chunk in there to hold it in place, place a stick of cedar or aspen on top, and stand back. That’s it, you’re done. I haven’t used paper or cardboard in years. No, you don’t put a whole firewood-sized hunk of that pitchwood in there! But sometimes I miss one, or gamble that a too-heavy piece won’t betray me.

One thing to remember is that even if you get it throttled back by closing the draft, watch out: the thing can still bite you in the ass. Not long ago I “shut ‘er down” and thought I could relax. After you’ve cut off the air, a piñon fire will usually just incandesce and pump out heat. This time though, after a few minutes, there were enough volatile gases in the smoke to explode, and with a whomp like someone snapped a great big carpet in my face, smoke and great big flakes of greasy soot blew out from every seam and joint! They floated in the air and settled slowly, inexorably, onto everything in sight. This beats burning down the house, but not by much.

I yammer on to keep the riff-raff out. This wood is a gift and doesn’t love abuse. Treat it with respect, and heaven opens up to you. Kick it in the junk, it kills you dead.

»Buy This Photo!«

↓ Sign up for free email delivery of most JHFARR.COM posts ↓
  (PLUS exclusive content from my new Substack newsletter!)

John Hamilton Farr lives in Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore tells it in a review of John’s first book, Buffalo Lights is the work of a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” John is the author of BUFFALO LIGHTS, TAOS SOUL, ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE, and THE HELEN CHRONICLES. He has been publishing online since 1996 (Zoo Zone, Farr Site, MacFaust, GRACK!, FarrFeed) and blogs regularly here at JHFARR.COM. His latest projects are both named GODDAMN BUFFALO: purchase NFTs at OpenSea and read new writing at Substack! See also → John’s Twitter profile, Amazon Author Page, video channel at YouTube, and website photos at SmugMug. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page.  

{ 0 comments… add one }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: