When my husband asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted to go hunting for fatwood, I initially hesitated as he baffled me with the particular vocabulary. Always up for an adventure with him, I wasn’t sure what the offer here was. He quickly explained that fatwood is what you find in the middle of a pine tree stump.
The explanation answered my vocab question but did not really address the purpose of the mission.
Hunting for stumps?
This Connecticut-boy-turned-Southerner has become a hunter extraordinaire, but this stumped me. Maybe this was his effort to find something I was capable of hunting,— guns not necessary.
He again explained: fatwood is a premium fire starter. There is nothing like it.
The original liquid form of pine tree sap contains terpene, the main ingredient of turpentine. This, of course, is highly flammable. So once the stump sap hardens, the remaining interior portion of that wood becomes a perfect piece of kindling. Apparently it can be lit even when wet and it burns well enough to light larger pieces.
No chemicals—it is all natural and essentially unbeatable. Once a tree has been cut or has fallen, the stump left in the ground becomes the source. Sap remaining in the stump thickens and hardens, producing fatwood.
He explained to me the the tree has to be injured or fall or cut down for the sap to accumulate this way. It is a dying tree’s effort to sustain its own roots, to preserve life.
The lifeblood of the tree has value beyond the tree’s very life.
I watched wide-eyed as he packed an axe, tow straps, a chainsaw, shovel. The toolkit suddenly made stump hunting look a bit more formidable.
We drove out to the property and he immediately began pointing out candidates.
It was cool and sunny and I marveled at the towering pines. The smell of a pine tree is so inviting. It made me think of our first bedroom furniture when we got married—made of pine. It was beautiful and functional and lasted longer than my ever-fluctuating taste at the time.
He zeroed in on a particular stump which to me looked pretty nondescript. He was explaining again the wonder of its ability to burn and how easy to start a fire, as if I might actually ever be out in the woods trying to start a fire on my own. It was intriguing nonetheless.
The work that ensued was significantly harder than I anticipated, not for me of course, but for him. He dug out around the bottom of the stump with his shovel, sweat gathering at his brow. He pulled out a pry bar and tried to get leverage under the edge of the stump. He eventually backed his truck nearer and pulled out straps to attach to his trailer hitch and under the root opposite the truck.
I backed further away and held up my phone to shakily video the shenanigans. Engine revving and wheels spinning, he pulled against the stump only to have the strap fly loose and the strain of the relieved tension jerk him forward.
The process went on and I wondered was it really worth this kind of effort.
The older I get the more times I have realized, often the hard way, this is usually the case. What is worth acquiring in this world is never easy.
I think of learning and understanding the Word of God. So many times I read a portion and sit back bewildered. It cannot mean this, I think. So often it requires additional tools, insight and maybe even sweat on the brow from real life circumstances that test its validity and soundness.
So often I have dug around at the edges and tried to get some leverage—make it go the way I want it to go and it does not budge. It sits rich with the precious knowledge waiting while I break myself open against it. I’m embarrassed by the number of times my head has snapped back when it reveals again my erroneous efforts to make it fit me.
In Revelation, one of Jesus’ names is the Word of God. He’s clothed in a vesture dipped in blood.
I can’t help but think of life-giving sap. How when the tree is injured and dying, the sap still strengthens and gathers and offers life.
The dying effort still offers life—and what it produces easily ignites a fire.
My husband is undeterred. He digs again. He works the lever. He reattaches the straps.
The pattern repeats and the stump holds fast until the very end.
Finally it yields its treasure.
He holds up a chunk for me to smell. The work is complete. The aroma is beautiful.