How a German Woodsman Makes a Dieben

Yoder is a traditional German “woodsman”, the kind of fellow we hear about in old European folktales who finds Hansel and Gretel in the forest and saves them.  But Yoder is the real thing.  He actually earns a living managing and harvesting the timber of the forest.

Yoder does not look like a character from a medieval folktale, for this tall, lanky 20-something with freckles wears his red hair in long dred-locks pulled into a pony tail.  But he is very much a German woodsman, a man mentored and trained to earn a living from the forest in a traditional, sustainable way.

C met him when she was visiting her sister “P” in Nova Scotia last week.  He was on an extended vacation and visiting P’s adult children, who are personal friends of Yoder.  C said that he was a quiet, reserved young fellow – so reserved that she asked that I not use his real name in this essay.  As a conservationist, C was fascinated by what Yoder knew about forest living, and one of the more practical things she learned from him was how the woodsmen stacked firewood.  The stacked structure is called a dieben.

P heats her home with a wood stove, and Yoder created a large dieben of firewood next to P’s cottage for her.  Seen from above, a dieben is a spiral stack of split wood reminiscent of the shell of a nautilus.  It wraps around itself, utilizing the space on which it sits and leaves enough space in the stack so the wood can dry properly and shed rainwater.

dieben spiral

Every few feet or so, Yoder stacks some splits lengthwise along the stack.  It helps stabilize the entire dieben and keeps it from disassembling.  I remember learning something similar when I learned how to stack pallets at a Big Box store.  A “hound’s tooth” pattern kept everything from shifting in transit.  Apparently, German woodsmen figured this out long ago and have been doing it for centuries.

dieben splits

I have come to appreciate the gentle way Germans manage their land.  Unlike Americans, who were always abandoning exhausted farmland and moving on to the next virgin frontier, Germans realized that they were going to live in one spot for many generations to come and therefore lived on their land with a very long view in mind.  I met a German vegetable farmer once, who told me that his family had been farming on the same 600 acres for nine centuries and it was one of the most productive farms in the area.  Germans started farming sustainably generations before it became a by-word in agriculture here; it is not surprising that Europe is the birthplace of permaculture.

C said she wondered if Yoder’s quiet, gentle nature was what led him to the quiet, gentle profession of woodsman, or if the profession itself made him quiet and gentle.  I could ponder over the question of whether the ministry forms the disciple or the disciple forms the ministry, but that sounds like a sermon and I made a promise to myself that I was not going to turn everything in this blog into a sermon.  Beauty and wonder and gratitude are sermon enough sometimes, like the construction of a dieben and the gentle soul who made it. They do not need my two cents’ worth of commentary.  It, and he, are enough.

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