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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Herb Benham

A friend offered firewood. A few pieces to get me started. Firewood charity is a sign it might be time to order your own wood.

Who buys a cord anymore? Three hundred plus. You can fly to New York on that kind of money, although you might have to walk back.

"I'd like half a cord," I said. "How much will that run me?"

"One hundred and fifty dollars for almond," said the voice on the other end of the phone. "Stacking is another $20."

I told him I'd stack it myself. What I didn't tell him was that stacking firewood can be a religious experience. A neatly stacked wood pile is like a perfectly coiled hose.

It can bring a peace that is beyond all understanding as well as an encounter with a cat and the neighborhood chicken.

"I can see you've ordered from us before," he said, after I said yes to half a cord but no to the stacking.

"Yes I have," I said, hoping that my history would entitle me to dry firewood.

I'd bought wet firewood before. It looked dry, but it burned wet. The wood sat there as impassively as cement as I aimed every kind of fireball at it short of a cruise missile in order to get the wood to change its mind.

Wet firewood is not in a hurry to change its mind. Summer can do it but that takes five months and a stubbornly hot fall to boot.

If I were smart I'd buy in the summer when the wood is hard but the price has give. But I don't because I'm not. I think of firewood when I do pomegranates, persimmons and pumpkin pie.

I like clean air. However, when it gets cold and dark and a glass of red wine calls for a fire, it's hard to resist. I bank on the walking and biking to buy forgiveness for the dirty air the fire indulgence yields.

Monday at about 4 p.m., a young man selling a miracle cleanser knocked on the door. I could give the pitch. This product is so safe you could spray it inside of your mouth and it will leave the enamel on your teeth intact; but at the same it will remove the tarnish from your doorknob with a soft rag.

I like seeing people make a living, but I wish their efforts didn't include a $40 container of citrus-based cleanser that you can buy for a buck at the dollar store.

The second knock was a young man with a beard. You want your firewood man to have a beard and look like a lumberjack. The only thing better would have been if Babe the Blue Ox had pulled the firewood wagon.

"I'd appreciate it if you didn't run over this sprinkler when you back up on the lawn," I said.

Not that it mattered. I'm not sure the sprinkler was sprinkling. They're either broken or about to break.

After he dumped the wood, I fetched the red wheelbarrow a friend had given me when his father died. Blueberry, the cat, bounced over to see what was going on. I picked a pomegranate and sat on the curb and ate it because that's what you do before you stack firewood.

Matt, my next-door neighbor, drove up. We talked. It had been awhile and sometimes it takes buying a half cord to remind you you live next door to somebody.

Mexicali Alley, the chicken with the loose morals, perched on the back gate and we visited, or at least as much visiting as you can do with a chicken.

The night grew dark and the pile bigger. Why hurry? Fall is the time to take a breath. The time to look at a fire and the purple in a glass of wine.

The woodpile was neatly stacked. Wood art. Harmonious as a coiled hose.