So in early December the young wood-cutter began cutting the pine-wood on the top of the La Faula hill. I now know his name and he is twenty years old. He works by himself. In the morning at eight he is already up on the hill. During the day one hears him cutting and sees the felling of the pines. When the pines are down he cleans-off the side branches and chops them into small pieces before pulling the logs up the hill with a powerful winch attached to his tractor.
His work is treacherous. Cutting high trees in a dense wood is always risky. Mostly the trees will go where they should but sometimes they twist and fall unpredictably. Often they fall against another tree while still standing vertical and getting them down is fraught with possibilities of danger. Winching tons of logs up a steep slope pitted with stumps is extremely dangerous. Sensibly the wood-cutter gets into and stays in the cab of the tractor while doing this. Numerous farmers, less experienced in forestry, have been killed in Friuli when the tree they were winching suddenly blocked and the tractor, instead, reared up and over on the unwary farmer.
And this is all without mentioning the risks of turning the tractor over on steep slopes, on being injured by the chain-saw or being crushed while stacking the logs. Getting the logs out involves driving a heavily-loaded trailer down a narrow and slippery logging road, sheer sides dropping away, all the while trying to keep control with a tractor that weighs significantly less. Being a woodcutter is like being in the Old West. One faces danger every day and in most actions. Nowadays there is machinery but it is powerful and unforgiving of human slightness.
So I wonder at the fact that the wood-cutter is up there on our hill alone. I know that if something bad happens and he is incapacitated or cannot reach or use his telephone no-one will come to help him until he fails to return for dinner in the evening. It is like this, even now in 2011. He could die there, not adrift on some angry ocean nor alone in a crevice of a great mountain but not more than 50 metres from La Faula where Luca and I are working and the dogs are playing. I keep an ear out and when I sense there are long periods of silence turn an eye to the hill. Once or twice the dogs got an extra walk as I climbed the hill to make sure that the wood-cutter was all-right.
Last Sunday I made my habitual visit to the local Trattoria Ai Cons. After Sunday Mass the regulars are there and they figuratively chew the fat. It’s a good place to feel the currents flowing around La Faula. A friend leant over towards me.
’They say he doesn’t pay’ he said in a low voice.
’Who’ I replied but I already had an idea.
’Him, he that is cutting your wood. They say he doesn’t pay. I heard this during the week. They were discussing it’.
’But they would say that wouldn’t they?’ I replied.
’It’s the cattiveria [spite - malice]. They always have to talk bad about someone who’s doing something. And it might even be true.’ I paused. Of course it may or may not be true. But the vein of cattiveria in small Italian villages is a rich seam, easily mined when somebody is doing something out of the ordinary.
A few days later I discussed the situation with Corradino as we walked together along the river stop-bank, the dogs darting to and fro around us. Corradino was warming up for his big holiday season bender - too much alcohol and too much temptation. He was already imbibing the Christmas spirit and his breath was a bit sour.
’The problem is’ I said ’That when you give the cut to someone you can’t be there all the time controlling that they aren’t ripping you off’. It’s impossible not to be fregato [screwed].
’No’ Corradino said. ’The problem is that wood-cutting is heavy and difficult and stressful. The machinery costs a lot and breaks often. Then there is the fuel. If you give the cut to someone he sees all that he has to risk and do. And then he has to pay you for doing nothing. It’s obvious that there is always the temptation to take a bit more and give the owner of the wood less.’
To be continued .....
Returning to the felling of the La Faula Pine Wood:
This evening, when it was already dark and under a consistent light rain, an articulated log hauler lorry came to take away some of the pine logs cut from the pine-wood at the top of the La Faula hill.
The young wood-cutter had already created a large pile of logs before Christmas but when the lorry had arrived to take them, and left the tarmacked road, it lost traction and needed to be pulled back onto the hard by a tractor. Moving this pile will need to wait until either the temperatures fall and stay consistently below zero or that there passes a period of dry.
The wood-cutter, wisely, placed his second pile next to the road and this was the one that the logs were taken from this evening. The experience was, in some way, exhilarating. Normally the closest I get to the big log-hauling lorries is when I pass them on the motorway. Our van is small and old and the lorries so large and stacked so high with lumber that I feel a tinge of nervousness as I overtake, the van rattling along and the vertical wall of wood rearing alongside. Occasionally, I have done this in the rain, nearly blinded, and wholly terrified, by the constant sheet of spray thrown-up the by the numerous lorry wheels.
So it was that this evening the wood-cutter called me and said that the lorry would soon arrive. We had agreed that I would be there to record the weight and check that everything was above-board. The night was dark but the lorry was fully illuminated by numerous spotlights placed upon it. The enormous arm carried three large lights that pushed the night away. Out of the black the scene emerged as if in daylight. The lorry was on the side of the narrow country road but nobody passing could miss it. An enormous pile of logs was perpendicular to the lorry and the great arm would swing over and grab a bunch of logs as if they weighed as balsa. The loading proceeded with speed. The operator was expert and when a particularly heavy bunch of logs was lifted was suddenly bathed in red light as an over-load warning triggered.
I stood there with the wood-cutter. Both of us, oblivious to the rain, were transfixed by the marvel of the power, strength and dexterity of the machinery. To watch trunks of such weight lightly lifted, swung and positioned without a drop or a bang was breath-taking. We didn’t feel the cold or the wet; we were taken away watching the steel and plastic, come alive and exert its graceful magic. Of course, for the wood-cutter there was also the pleasure that the logs now passed to the saw-mill and payment would be following.
I commented on how able the operator was in manipulating the arm so expertly. It seemed, somehow, a tremendous thing for one man to have all that power under his immediate control and to be able to exercise it so finely. The elegance with which the arm operated seemed to portend operation by a man somehow more than those of us average guys.
It is so nice to be sitting here in a toasty-warm kitchen with the sound of wood crackling coming from the new wood-burning stove sat in the corner of the room behind the door.
The best Christmas present this year was finally to have heating in the house! The stove was eventually delivered on the Friday of the week preceding Christmas. It’s arrival coincided with a sensible diminution of the outside temperature. On the Monday and Tuesday following the stove’s arrival, the plumbers worked to connect it to the house’s heating system. On the Wednesday morning the electricians did their part. Luca and I by this stage were almost beside ourselves. The cold in the house had become bone-cracking. The inside chill was so vicious after a number of nights below zero degrees Celsius that was unpleasant to finish work and come inside for the evening. There was nothing to do except to escape to bed immediately after dinner! (I did, however, manage to watch all the episodes of Black Adder on the BBC iPlayer - never having had a TV I missed all this modern culture - but the internet is letting me catch up!)
So it was with some trepidation that we awaited Wednesday evening when the stove-installer and the plumber would come to light-up the stove and calibrate the draw, the pump and air supply. Of course, we knew that if all went well our wait would have been worth it. But given that it had taken around three months for the stove to arrive, we knew that if there was a defect or something needing repairs we would be in for a white Christmas - but inside the house! We didn’t feel that we would be able to survive such an eventuality!
As it happened, everything flowed just as it should. The stove lit up, there were no leaks and we have been warm ever since. In fact, the stove has proved better than we could have imagined. The house has never been so warm. The wood consumption is lower than with our old wet-back cooker. There are no problems with condensate or creosote build-up. The stove sits away in a corner of the kitchen, gently crackling. We couldn’t have asked for anything more. And here I must type-in the stove details in case some internet searcher should be looking for information on this particular type of stove Klover SICURO top Modello KL 29 top.
In these last months we have had two significant expenditures: the two new webcams and the stove and new chimney. As I wrote previously, in the case of the webcams we had to pay the full amount up-front before the supplier would even order them from the manufacturer. In the case of the stove and new chimney, it was virtually them same; to confirm the order we had to pay a major part of the total price. In both cases the suppliers refused to take any risk on subsequent non-payment. Having paid, however, the risk was all ours until the webcams were installed and the chimney remade and stove installed. As the weeks passed and the stove failed to arrive my real fear was that should Italy be forced from the Euro, or should the Euro fail (same thing really - one would follow the other), all consignments would at that point cease - no business would ship a product without knowing it’s new price. In fact for a moment a large part of economic activity in Italy would freeze. And if it froze while we were without a stove we would freeze too and all the way through winter!
The trouble with Italy leaving the Euro is that one can never know when it will happen. The point at which one knows that it will happen is the point at which it has. That Italy and the Euro will part is without doubt. But the devil is in the timing. I suspect that it will be like the earthquake that hit Aquila in 2009. We know that Italy is in a Euro fault zone. There have been lots of small tremors but when they cease and calm returns it will seem that we are safe from ’the Big One’. The authorities will tell us there is nothing more to worry about, not to be afraid and to go inside to bed. And so we will, relieved that The End has been pushed beyond our own time. But it will be folly and useless. When the ’Big One’ comes to Italy it will fracture the society and all will see that Italy never had an economic infrastructure capable of withstanding globalisation and linking itself to countries such as Germany. All will see that behind the facade, beautiful as it is, in true Italian style there were only words and they will not be enough: When the ’Big One’ comes!
Now this was a positive turn of events. In past years, when concern that the stand of pines was a fire risk had niggled at my mind, I had made a few desultory attempts at seeing if anyone local would be interested in logging the pines. In those times nobody was. 'No good for burning' the local woodcutters informed me. 'Too much resin. Coats the chimneys and can lead to chimney fires.' 'No good for building wood'. others told me. 'The trees have never been thinned. Too tall, too thin, too many branches'. 'Maybe the wood could be good for pallets'. said another woodcutter. 'One of my sons works at the pallet works. I'll talk to him. Maybe he will be interested'.
It all seemed too difficult so I reconciled myself to leaving the pines there. Although I did worry about fire; the wood is popular with walkers and, unfortunately, sometimes motocross bikers. And where there are people well ..... On the other hand we do have a number of Great Buzzard pairs somewhere on the hill. We guess that they live in the pine trees although we have strained to see their nests and have never succeeded. At least they wouldn't be disturbed!
So here I was with someone offering to pay for the pines. It seemed like a lucky stroke and I accepted although feigning a notable lack of alacrity.
Since we arrived at La Faula in 1995 the pine wood at the top of the Faula has been a clear and notable feature. And it was before. We first started visiting La Faula together during holidays spent with Luca's parents in the late 1980's. The pines were a proud, dark, evergreen presence defining and differentiating the Faula hill from the others. In the time of the Agriturismo, guests recount to us how good it is when coming to La Faula to see the hill, topped with its pines, rising up from the plain. And pine trees are very beautiful. So, it could seem like a big, perhaps negative, step to fell them.
But the Maresciallo of the Forestry Guards was right. Those pines are not native to the hills of Friuli. The woods of Friuli are self-regenerative. They contain a mixture of oak, wild cherry, ash, chestnut, hazelnut, some beech and robinia psuedoacacia (Black Locust) from America. In Friuli Trees are harvested from a wood every twenty years. Only well developed hardwoods such as oak are cut with younger trees being left to develop. Great trees such as the chestnut are often left as features and landmarks. The great prize is the robinia which grows aggressively and fast and produces a non-resinous hard wood ideal for burning. A cut robinia sprouts numerously from the stump and along its root system. It is nitrogen-fixing so is good for the clay 'soil' of most woods. It doesn't seem to out-compete native European trees but its rapid growth shades the brambles keeping newly cut woods clean.
A mixed wood provides habitat for many types of wildlife. The pine forest, a cathedral of tall, marching trees, hushed pine-needle soft, is more monument than bursting ecosystem!
And so it was that last week the young wood-cutter/volunteer forest fireman began felling the pines, alone.
To be continued ....
This summer past a Maresciallo from the Forestry Corps stopped by. As usual, I offered a glass of wine. He chatted amiably with me for a while then slid into the nub of his visit.
"Those trees up there, those pines on top of the hill. You should really think about cutting them."
"Oh" I said. This was a surprise but I had yet to see exactly where this was going so I remained silent.
"Yes, the trees are getting old, pines are not native here, they don't last forever. The stand is getting old. It is better that you cut it now. If you don't one day we may oblige you to cut it. If you do it now you could probably earn something. If you have to do it under duress, however, you won't be sure of this."
"Ah" I said. It was perfectly clear. The logic was faultless. He was right, the pines were old and it surely would be better for us to manage the cut than have it forced upon us. A bit of local house-keeping by the local Forestry Corps!
Summer was busy and I put the problem of the wood to the back of my mind. One morning, however, a guest with knowing smile and twinkling eyes said to me "Paul, there is a fireman here to see you! He is outside by the tables"
I went outside and sure enough there was a young-guy wearing off-duty fatigues of the forest-fire volunteers.
"Ciao" I said
"Ciao" he replied
Having exchanged 'Ciao's' I then politely said "Prego" [please as in 'what can I do for you']
The fire volunteer extended a hand and introduced himself. I don't think that I caught his name and somehow, in the intervening times notwithstanding having seen him a few times and even having signed a contract with him, I've never managed to actually establish what he is called. Of course, I know who he is, where he lives, how long he has lived there, who his family are, whether he is reliable or not, how he works. But his name has so-far escaped me.
"I heard that you might be thinking to cut the pine trees at the top of the hill" the young volunteer fireman said.
"I'm in the business of cutting trees and pine is my speciality. I could even pay you."
to be continued ....
Yesterday, we put on-line the modifications we have made to the web site. We have simplified the Home Page leaving it as a simple Index Page and moved all the photos, videos and slide-show content to the new Media Page. The Media Page can be accessed by clicking on the Media Icon on the left of the Access Bar at the very top of the page.
We have separated-out the Diary and this too is accessed by clicking on the Diary icon on the left of the Access Bar.
We now have three webcams at La Faula and their pages are accessed via the Media Page.
The Message System remains and is accessed via the Scriverci/Write Us and Area Messaggi/Message Area icons on the far right of the Access Bar at the very top of the Home Page (and of the other pages containing the Access Bar). We have removed the list of people for whom a message is waiting as they are notified via e-mail.
This Faula website began life in 1997 and its evolution and functionality has reflected that of the web itself. The site had become too confusing and unwieldy and so we are attempting to simplify and stream-line it. The complication for us is that the web-site is speaking to two distinct audiences: those who have stayed at La Faula, know it and want to follow happenings here and those alighting upon the site for the first time in consideration of making a holiday. And, over the years we have created a lot of content which is now a part of the history of La Faula and which we want to make accessible. Not to mention other content such as photos of La Faula from early guests and other photo series that we have not yet integrated into the site.
We try to keep the Faula website alive - it’s not that difficult as La Faula is alive and placed in the middle of a very special country - perhaps too special!
Please feel free to write to us and let us know what you think. Re-making the web-site is going to take a very long time. We go slowly but the first steps have just been taken.
Kind Regards - Paul and Luca