In slow, careful Castellaño, I ask Pablo, "Can you make me two wooden boxes, 60 cm wide by 50 cm deep by 30 cm high, with top & bottom (tapa y fondo)?"
"Algorrobo or pino?" he asks.
I stop to think. Algorrobo is the hardwood the builders used for our window & door frames.
"Pine is cheaper, algorrobo is more expensive," he says. His workshop is outdoors, a sea of wood & sawdust, partial & completed rustic-style furniture, two dogs. The table saw has a meter-long vertical blade.
"I don't need such hard wood just for firewood boxes," I say. "I'm going to put one box on either side of our wood stove, one to hold logs, one to hold kindling & paper. I need these boxes because I have a kitten who strews kindling from one end of the house to the other, all over the furniture, too." He smiles when I say kitten.
"How much?" I ask.
"So much?" I know the pine will be unfinished, the hinges unevenly placed. Mike will sand & varnish them. One will not close perfectly.
"250 per box. The box is 50 centimeters high," he says.
"No," I say, "only 30 centimeters high because it fit beneath the electrical outlets."
He moves his hands, extends his measuring tape: "Dos cientos."
I nod my head, "200 per box," I say. I always repeat numbers to make sure I've understood correctly. It's still too much, but I am a gringo & must pay more than a local, though not quite as much as I would if I were speaking English instead of Castellaño.
"When?" I ask.
"Morning or afternoon," I ask, knowing he will say afternoon. Today is Wednesday. Little Miss Vee must wait at least two more days for two new boxes to play in. Back home I realize I forgot to specify that the hinges go on the 60-cm side. Does it matter? I measure the space again. The boxes will fit turned either way.
The sleeves of my Lands End cotton turtleneck are prickly with thorns, even though I wore it under a Lands End jacket with a nylon exterior & fleece liner. The thorns studding my blue jeans prick me when I sit down. All because I wanted a third load of firewood that was half-buried in sand under thorny grasses. My mittens, my hat, the ends of my hair are clotted with thorns. Easing them from my hair is the hardest. I pull tiny thorns from my fingers all day.
Much of the firewood I bring home is too large for the wood stove. Mike tells me so when I drop it on the pile. He doesn't notice my thorns. I point at him, which means, "You'll cut it with your handsaw." Soon enough we'll drive three hours to Salta to buy a chainsaw. Next winter we'll lay in a large store of firewood before winter comes.
As long as the sun shines & the wind holds off, which is most days, the sun warms all the places we spend our days, inside & out. If I put the thermometer where I am sitting, it would probably read 35ºC, nearly body temperature. The cat is sleeping on my shins in sunny heaven.
Outside the north-facing picture window bearded irises are blooming, most of them purple, one white. I don't know why irises would bloom in winter, but the plants that thrive here at one mile high possess some desert hardiness I've not met before. In New England most small- to medium-size plants disappear with frost & winter under snow. In Hawaii's temperate rainforest you can generally only kill a plant by burning it or carrying it away.
Mike spotted two woodpiles along the main road. The first contained wood too long to fit in our stove, & we don't have a chainsaw yet. The second looked promising, so I hopped out while Mike turned the car around. Plenty of logs & kindling that will fit. The logs especially are welcome, because we have used all that Federico's guys brought us.
I select & toss firewood onto the road; Mike loads the car, warns me not to injure him. We both work hard & fast. Soon he is breathless. I ask him to rest, please, I will load the rest into the car, but it's hard to stop selecting more because the trove contains such treasure. He rests for thirty seconds and starts again, breathing hard. Regretfully I stop & take his place. The trunk is nearly full.
Back home I drive the car around to the north side of the house & unload into a tidy stack on the veranda. We're in good shape for the next cold spell. Not only that, Roan called from Salta last night to get Mike's approval to buy us a Stihl chainsaw.
The firewood boxes are not ready on Friday or Saturday. “Monday,” Pablo says. When we pull up late Tuesday morning, he is just installing the hinges on the second box. They are solid boxes, unfinished pine, irregularly spaced hinges.
We drive to Keti hardware to buy wood stain, which is not called mancha de madera, just as Mike suspected. The older woman beams with pleasure to see us & kisses me hello. We buy a liter of protector de madera, finish satinado, color nogal — walnut. As we leave the middle-aged woman tells us how happy she is to see us again.
The boxes are sitting up off the ground on blocks of quebracho, the local hardwood used for our roof beams. Today Mike will stain them, one or two coats depending on how much the pine absorbs.
This afternoon we will move all the firewood inside the house out to the veranda, we will straighten up our scattered messes, because tomorrow Elba comes to wash & wax the floors. We thought we would do that ourselves, but in the three months since the floors were sealed, we haven't done it. There's too much floor & too many more interesting things to do. Perhaps we'll have her wash the windows, too.