Twenty-five years ago on any given autumn weekend, Century Drive would be virtually bumper-to-bumper with old pickup trucks loaded with firewood. Firewood gathering, along with the opening of hunting and fishing season was a Bend tradition. Most gatherers did multiple loads during a day and for many people, wood gathering was a family affair complete with a picnic lunch.
Come winter, Bend was primarily warmed by wood stoves, so much so that an EPA study from a site near Pilot Butte in the late 90s showed the local air to be among the foulest in Oregon in winter. That was especially true during extended periods of inversion.
With the onset of an inversion there was a slight pall of smoke in the air. If you took a short walk in the evening, you'd come home smelling like you'd spent all night in a smoky bar.
Eventually, the City Council passed an ordinance calling for the replacement of, on the sale of a house, an existing old wood stove with a new clean burning stove. The ordinance also mandated the installation of clean burning stoves in all new construction, should a wood stove be part of the plans. More recently, the state has adopted rules that require all woodstove owners to upgrade to clean burning stoves because of air quality concerns.
Wood stoves and wood stove heat slowly became something of the past.
But apparently there's a renaissance of home heating with wood. Witness the dozens of wood gatherers along Century Drive for the past several weeks. Hey, it's almost like the old days are back thanks to lots of beetle kill and rising home heating costs.
I love it. It reminds me of when Bend was smaller and far more rooted in tradition. So, cut away wood gatherers and enjoy the warmth of a wood fire this winter.