As wood-burning stoves proliferate in the Eastern Sierra, so do wood gatherers. Most houses and condominiums in Mammoth have a wood stove or fireplace, or both, and a typical household uses three or four cords--at $100 to $175 a cord--during the fall and winter. The upshot is that wooding is becoming almost a competitive sport. Plenty of people with chain saws show up when gathering season opens May 1; go too late in the season, which ends Oct. 31, and wood can be scarce.
For many, wood gathering isn't simply a way to beat the cost of firewood--or even a necessary chore. It's a ritual of fresh air, truck caravans and picnic lunches. A few of the more rustic types bring handsaws to cut the wood into manageable size while enjoying a respite from city life and perhaps a glimpse of a deer or a gliding golden eagle.