"For a moment, he becomes a pebble on the beach and before the exquisite beauties
and awesome forces of nature submits himself…to these ageless
things which link him with the dim and distant past.”
—Paul Schaefer


December Wood
by Dan Plumley, Partner

For surviving an Adirondack winter, or safeguarding wild lands, putting up winter wood is important, but it’s the December wood that matters most
Dan, left, with conservationist and friend Andy Testo. Protecting wild lands – like putting up December wood – is always made
more enjoyable when good friends lend a helping hand.
“Tail-end” wood under December snow – on target and getting ready for burning long after December wood is gone and the
last of the winter wood is tuckered out.
Over the past 2 decades, most protected landscapes have been working forest lands under conservation easements – not full
forest preserve. Additional forest preserve acquisitions from
willing sellers remains critical to insuring these youth of today –
and those of tomorrow – have wild lands to explore.

Here in Keene, I have learned by experience to begin gathering my “December Wood” in January prior, at least eleven months before burning it for heat in my wood furnace. Some times it has been twelve or even thirteen months ahead and, well, sometimes its been more nip and tuck, closer to eight. Those were busy years with a lot of travel away and I was nervous a bit looking towards readying for the coming winter as seasoning northern hardwood is important to me before sending it to sparks.

To be honest, the prior January “gathering” of December wood begins in my head on snowshoes or skis around these woods and I don’t need to carry a saw or my axe. They can sleep till mud season for all I care at this point. The temperature is deep enough below zero, the air biting a lovely cold with crystalline snows and I’m out to visit old friends in these trees and do some selectin’ for my December wood. I’m ever thankful and make a prayer for wise decisions every time because these trees are like family and have stood by me for many years and they guide me to the December wood every time.

December wood is the dead, dying or unfavored hardwood trees that I will fell that gets me all the way through December and, in a usual year, a good way into January and the New Year coming. Most years I burn a lot of December wood from late November on well into January. Once, it got me pretty near to the middle of February. That was a good one.

I don’t count for or call on January or February wood. That’s all “winter” wood for me and there will be enough of that not to plan or worry over much - despite good reminders of the sore muscles and a nick or scrape here or there from hauling out, bucking, splitting and piling the past Fall. We’re in deep by this time when the winter snows lie in discernable layers on the streambeds.

Naming wood picks up again for “March wood” or “tail-end wood” and that is, more often than not, a niggling bother and a distraction in terms of getting through to Spring all right and that all depends, first and foremost, on the fecundity and provision of my December wood.

December wood is, essentially, my stock and hope in the face of a North Country winter. It is putting things as right as can be first for the coming hard times and what will certainly be a leaner season and challenges as yet unknown.

A century and a quarter past, our visionary forefathers in New York State, saw fit to put up some “December wood” in the creation of our “forever wild” forest preserve – an unmatchable gift of hope with intention for all things wild and natural for future generations benefit. Many negative amendments to Article XIV of the State Constitution have been staunchly turned down by the voters of New York, while support for land protection has continued to gain strong support, the forest preserve in the Adirondacks and Catskills have been enlarged to 3 million acres of “forever wild” lands.

Wild lands, like putting up good December wood before winter, serve as a critical hedge against future challenges. Our protected wild lands help insure that we will always have abundant, pure, clean freshwater for our streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands and water needs. Preserving the abundance, capacity and quality of our watersheds in the Adirondacks and the Catskills was a driving force behind their creation in the late 19th century and even more valuable today in a world where water scarcity is on the increase.

Protected wild lands also serve as key habitat areas for wildlife and plant biodiversity of all species and types from mammals to amphibians, insects to protozoa, native grasses, herbs to our most dominant tree species, from birds to fish, shellfish and plankton and on and on in a rich mosaic. Preserving functioning ecosystem types from our low land and high land boreal ecosystems in the Adirondacks to northern hardwood forests, bogs, fens and wetlands and even alpine tundra in our High Peaks sustains an ecological storehouse of rich, home-grown native or endemic biota that pays off tremendous biological, economic, health, recreational and scenic benefits.

The healing properties of our boreal spruce, fir and pine forests have long been proven and these too are an ecosystem benefit from clean, rarified air offered up free of charge by our forest preserve and protected wild lands. Together, these values and ecosystem services reduce the impacts of periodic drought, strengthen our health and well being, reduce the damages to roads and infrastructure from flooding, store fresh water and genetic legacy and potential, offer up other services worth tens of billions of dollars annually to each and every New Yorker and some told millions from out of state and international visitors, as well.

What’s more, our protected and designated wilderness lands offer up something even more rare today in our technology-driven, fast paced world – silence, solitude and the tonic of wildness gained from self-sufficient “getting back of beyond” on foot or paddle into true wilderness. That experience and sense of remoteness – of bonding, if only for a day or two or more with nature undefiled by motorized and mechanized vehicles with their noise and disturbance – brings our humanness back to a simpler time and simpler state of being and understanding so rare and invaluable today.

Freedom to explore wild forest and wilderness lands is something of inestimable value to present and future generations and increasingly rare in the Eastern US today. Freedom to hike, to fish and even to hunt the truly wild, big buck white tail deer rarely found on private lands today. Freedom to reach, after some hard work on your own and by nature’s rules, a truly remote and wild vista or waterfall, rock, ice-climbing or camping location or far flung peak that is truly unique, a mystery and challenge to unfold. This freedom found only in the wilds allows us to put up December wood in our hearts and minds restoring us and preparing us and strengthening us for whatever lays ahead in our lives.

A few of my neighbors up here suggest “enough is enough already” stating the state already owns enough land in the Adirondacks, and for that matter, can’t take care of what it owns. To believe this “old saw” is to upend sound forest and wild land policy based on half-truths and that seems short sighted to and wrong-headed to me. It’s like holding off on gathering December wood just because your wood rack is half full. Doesn’t make sense to me seeing what the world’s natural systems in decline are telling us, much less the needs for wild land benefits for some 19 million New York citizens and our parks easily within a days drive of well over 80 million people.

Would you rue the safeguarding and stewardship of the Mona Lisa or Notre Dame Cathedral against ruination simply because your own “Da Vinci” painting was in a vault or your local church had a good buildings and grounds committee? Of course not. You would still do whatever you could do to protect that lady’s smile, and keep those high spires soaring grandly towards heaven!

Safeguarding our existing wild lands in New York means more than just having a sufficient number of forest rangers on the state payroll out in the field checking permits, doing search and rescue or leading trail crews, chasing poachers and forest fires – though that alone is hard in these lean years. These are ever important, but just like putting up December wood early, it also means making good planning a key commitment well ahead of time to insure we invest wisely in both wilderness management policies and land protection tools and strategies that protect the resource from fragmentation and development loss, impacts, inappropriate use and abuse crossways to our goals

For our designated wilderness lands, it sometimes means saying no to certain types of uses and transportation and motorized uses. That is because it so special and rare to have that wilderness experience and the remote solitude which we have here unlike almost anywhere else across all of our developed landscapes east of the Rocky Mountains!

Some winters are tougher and deeper than others up here. Often, I have to adapt my strategy to make ends meet, keep the family home warm, safe and sufficient. Likewise, as we learn more from science, climate changes, invasive challenges and willing seller opportunities, the State of New York and our People need to be willing to proactively adapt and make good, decisive decisions on extending the values and benefits of “forever wild” through new fee title land and conservation easement acquisition.

In a surprisingly cold winter, I have to search for what I call “Blue wood” to make it through. Blue wood is the long dead, often snag or leaning hard wood like beech or sugar maple tops or boles, generally speaking, or the occasional “red, white or greens” in red maple, or one of the two ash varieties we get. Many of these when long dead actually lose much of their outer bark, gray up plenty and actually wear shades of light blue as seen from a distance in the rime of a winter’s late morning or afternoon light. When you need it, and find it, Blue wood warms you inside just knowing that it will be stock-dead dry and ready to burn after a day’s time indoors – a ready extension of winter wood so that your March wood will make it well in to April as you had planned and know you’ll now desperately need.

Like assessing Blue wood when conditions require, strengthening and adapting our working model and policies for enhancing wild land conservation long term has to be one of our State’s ready priorities. So called “compromises” and “accommodations” that actually degrade wild land values on any of our state forest preserve lands should be turned down. We won’t make it through a harsh winter and the challenges coming if we burn up our December wood willy-nilly.

We’re now past a century and a quarter of “forever wild” history, and we need always to be willing to go the distance and fight for our wild lands and their values when conditions warrant. Making sure we make wise decisions and always convey the will of the People of New York State is our best, pre-cautionary strategy towards managing, safeguarding and extending our “forever wild” forest preserve

It all depends on recognizing the hope with intention through action that our forest preserve increasingly presents as a sacred trust to our People. As such, safeguarding, extending and educating on our unique wild land legacy in New York is truly the best “December wood” we can secure long term for future generations and the youths of distant tomorrows facing the need and desire for wilderness values and adventure in uncertain times.

Continue reading the next article on Extending the Wild >
Posted 12/2/710
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The mission of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is to advance New York’s ‘Forever Wild’ legacy and Forest Preserve policies in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, and promote public and private land stewardship that is consistent with wild land values through education, advocacy and research.

Top lef, Ice Meadows, Hudson River © Ken Rimany; Ducks ©Ken Rimany

Peter Brinkley, Honorary Chair
Terry Jandreau, Chair
Kenneth J. Rimany, Partner
David H. Gibson, Managing Partner
Mobile: 518.469.4081

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve    Founded 1945   PO Box 9247 • Niskayuna New York 12309 | ©