Working with a natural material like wood means you start to see your environment differently.I put my hands up to this: I am not a country girl. I was raised in a town (well, okay, small city) and things like the weather or the seasons, or the things that mark a countryside year such as lambing or harvest, made very little difference to my day to day life.Eventually though, I moved to a really rather isolated spot in Devon, and I had to get my head around country things. Things genuinely move at a different rate; it’s far less hurried. That change of pace has meant I’ve been able to learn a lot more about the world I live in, because here there are things you need to know in order to make life run smoothly!A wood burner – certainly for us – is essential. We’re blessed; we live next to a wood, so there’s more fuel than we can use. But you can’t just chop down a tree and burn it, oh no. Wet, new wood doesn’t burn easily, and if you do burn it, it will leave tar in your chimney which is a nuisance. So you have to dry it. And did you know certain wood burns better than others? A poem was written about it in the 1930s. This is one of those need-to-know things:The Firewood Poem – Lady Celia CongreveBeechwood fires are bright and clear If the logs are kept a year, Chestnut’s only good they say, If for logs ’tis laid away. Make a fire of Elder tree, Death within your house will be; But ash new or ash old, Is fit for a queen with crown of goldBirch and fir logs burn too fast Blaze up bright and do not last, it is by the Irish said Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread. Elm wood burns like churchyard mould, E’en the very flames are cold But ash green or ash brown Is fit for a queen with golden crownPoplar gives a bitter smoke, Fills your eyes and makes you choke, Apple wood will scent your room Pear wood smells like flowers in bloom Oaken logs, if dry and old keep away the winter’s cold But ash wet or ash dry a king shall warm his slippers by.So when I pick wood from our woodpile to make a toy, I’m looking for a few things. I want something that’s already dried out, but that didn’t dry too fast – that causes cracking. I want wood with a close, tight grain, because it’s easier to turn and finish. I won’t use pine at all – it’s too soft, and besides, it doesn’t burn well at all so we never bother cutting and seasoning it.When we take wood, we stick to trees that have fallen naturally. We never take more than is needed – fallen trees are important habitats for insects and fungi, and that brings more wildlife. The wood is stored in a dry place for around a year before it’s ready to use.Locally there’s plenty of ash, which although like the poem says will burn easily even if it’s wet, does have a fibrous, open texture that is a nightmare to finish well. Sometimes it has attractive “spalting” running through it as a result of fungus in the wood, which is lovely to look at but requires me to harden the wood before I can finish it and seal it. I use a lot of beech, which is lovely to work with – tight grain and a beautiful warm, honey colour. If I’m lucky, I get a bit of fruit wood – apple normally – or perhaps holly or willow. Willow is pale and takes a stain easily. I do use oak, which is hard and dries slowly.Once I’ve chosen a piece, it is roughly cut to size by hand. Then it’s fitted into the wood lathe, ready to have the bark stripped off and formed into a cylindrical shape. Wood that fell in winter storms isn’t yet ready for use, but the previous years’ batch is well seasoned.At this time of year, the woods are verdant green, thrumming with life. I walk through the woodland and I’m reminded that parts of this landscape I am living in haven’t changed for hundreds of years. Here there are still stag beetles, otters, and recently even signs of beaver activity. I wonder though, how long time will stand still for. Maladies of the outside world creep in – Dutch Elm disease, ash dieback fungus, non-native species like mink and grey squirrel. There must be pockets like this all over the planet – little bubbles where human hands haven’t harmed. That’s my motivation for all this, on micro and macro scales.