Every year, our neighbour takes two weeks off work to chop wood. Wood is his only source of heating.
Wood management is very important in Brittany, there is always a patch of woodland being completely cleared and then replanted. It is very common in France for parents with land to plant up to 1,000 saplings when a child is born and then to give the trees to the child when they reach 18.
Coppicing is also very popular, this is a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level. In subsequent growth years, many new shoots will emerge, and, after a number of years the coppiced tree, or stool, is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again
This year our neighbour managed to find a patch of woodland, mainly oak trees that were being cleared just outside of Reminiac. For a week he sawed and chopped the several huge trees into reasonable-sized logs and stacked them in a neat pile. Last week, he borrowed the tractor from the Mairie and transported the logs home where they have been stacked down the right-hand side of his garden. He now has two enormous log piles.
As he was proudly looking at his wood piles, I asked him,
‘How long will the wood last?’
‘Six years’, he replied, ‘It is really good to know that for six years I will be warm and no one can take that away from me. I’m not reliant on anyone to provide me with heat for the next six years.’
I know he will chop wood next year. To have a six-year wood supply is very important to him. This is not the first time I’ve heard this view. In Brittany, wood is still the main source of heating and to be self-sufficient in wood is very important. There is good evidence of this as you drive through the villages, most houses have sizeable wood piles.
I wonder if in years to come when power cuts become less and the French come to trust the power companies, whether this need to be self-sufficient in wood will become less important or whether it is so ingrained into their culture they will always have huge wood piles.