Did you see how I capitalized “THE” in the title to add emphasis to it, because with electronic communication if you capitalize stuff IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE YELLING, which always concerned me about emails from my Dad until I realized he just couldn’t find that Caps Lock Key.
My blog posts have always been prone to hyperbole, so there’s nothing new here.
I was thinking recently how often something that was said to you years ago … decades ago … lifetimes ago, really sticks with you. It’s often something hurtful and then your whole life becomes an on-going pursuit of revenge, or at least a mission to prove the person who said it wrong. This is a really common theme in literature and more important movies, so it must be true. We just watched the movie “I, Tonya” and that seemed to be her mother’s modus operandi.
It’s like how I still dwell on the nutritional wisdom offered to me by an accountant 35 years ago that “you can metabolize sugar” and I return to it every time I drink Dr. Pepper, or eat chocolate bars, or chocolate cake. I’ve read infinite articles refuting it and more importantly watched several definitive documentaries which unequivocally prove this is not the case, but there I am, on Tuesday night, which CLEARLY is NOT a Dr. Pepper night, rationalizing 9 teaspoons full of sugar, because, well, I’m special, and I can metabolize high fructose corn syrup. In fact, my body thrives on the stuff!
Which brings me back to the point of this rant which was something a friend said to me 21 years ago as we prepared to embark on our off-grid, country dwelling adventure. She said “Oh heating with wood sounds glamorous now, but you’ll hate it in no time … I give you 3 years and you’ll be back.” (Back in suburbia that is)
This will mark our 20th year of heating with wood, and I can still say, with complete honesty, “I LOVE HEATING WITH WOOD!” I love everything about it. It is totally awesome!
In my case, it is a huge part of my life and I finally realized it’s not just a commitment to heat my home with a zero/low carbon heating source, it’s just a passion which I now realize is more like a hobby.
First, a confession. By this time of year (March) I am totally sick of having to get up in the morning and start a woodstove for heat. It’s a pain in the butt. I’d rather just get up and lay on the couch and read flyers advertising stuff I don’t need. But I have no choice, if I want to get warm, and cook a low carbon breakfast, I’ve got no options, other than the propane heater which I’m not turning on.
This is in contrast to November, December, January and parts of February where I love getting up each morning and starting a fire. It is a ritual. It is wonderful. I know where my heat comes from. There is nothing like the smell of those first fires on cold fall days when I’m outside piling wood.
My hobby starts in the fall when I start cutting firewood for the following season. Now that I’ve cut the majority of the dead stuff on the property I am into harvesting live trees. I know what you are saying … “Cam, you’re killing carbon sinks, you savage!” Well, yes and no. Now that we’ve done our “Managed Forest Incentive Program” I believe I am sustainably harvesting firewood from our 150 acres. I’m pretty careful now to pick the trees that aren’t thriving or are poorly situated, and free up sunlight around them to encourage their younger siblings to get growing more robustly.
During the winter I’m taking down trees, cutting them into 2 or 3 log lengths and dragging them out to the road where I can get them in the spring. Well, with the new norm of a climate altered world, I have been able to get to a lot of the wood out of the bush with the truck at various times during the winter, since the snow pack was often light. Sigh.
Then it’s back to the house to be bucked with the electric chainsaw into woodstove lengths and split with the axe and electric log splitter to be ready to be burned next season after a summer of drying. I do use a gas-powered log splitter on some of the more gnarly, knotty stuff.
Right now I get up early and spend an hour doing firewood before breakfast. This is often piling the wood I split late in the previous day.
Then there’s this ballet of splitting wood with an axe. If you’ve read this blog for long you know what an opinionated individual I am. You also know that as much as I say I’d like to be that guy that just watches Netflix and reads fiction while sipping herbal tea, I am still drawn like a moth to watch the news and read day-old (week-old) newspapers and The Guardian, knowing that others’ stupidity is just going to infuriate me. Is this self-destructive behavior?
Hence, the beauty of “Carbon Offsetting Therapy” as I’ve just decided to call it. It is hard to be really, really angry, after an hour of wailing on chunks of wood with an axe and maul (which is just a big honkin’ really heavy axe). Getting into that rhythm of standing up a piece of wood, picking your target spot, and then judging what amount of force you’ll need based on the type of wood, the size of the piece you’re splitting, the type of axe your using … well frankly … I’m sure you’ve already deduced … it’s rocket science! Move over Elon Musk. Leave your darn rocket ship to Mars project and try and split some firewood for a few days! Yea, exactly, I knew you couldn’t handle it!
As I approach my 60th year I often start to wonder whether all this activity is necessarily a good idea. You know, the joints, the muscles, stuff is going to start wearing out. This is when I recall a discussion with my Doctor a while back about back issues and her response was “Use it or lose it.” I don’t know what medical journal you find that in, but it’s the ‘meme’ that I’m sticking with.
If I just lay around and watched the news and heated with propane my head would have exploded by now. With firewood, not only do I have an outlet for my rage, I spend so much time doing it, I just have way less time to find stuff to get pissed off about stuff. It’s perfect!
Twenty years after I piled my first firewood here at Sunflower Farm, I still marvel at the beauty of a row of freshly split and piled firewood. It is a work of art. “I Did That.” That pile of wood is the culmination of months’ worth of strategizing on which trees to cut, cutting them and harvesting and transporting them as carefully as I can with my sled on the snow, avoiding saplings as I go, and hundreds, nope thousands, nope by the end of the season tens of thousands of calories expended in the creation of this thing of beauty. And as you know the mathematical equation for this is, “calories expended = pies consumed!”
I know where my heat is coming from next winter. I have not adversely affected anyone who may live near a source of a fossil fuel that I could use instead. I know that the trees near where I harvested this wood from are all like ‘Yee ha, more sunlight, I’m just gonna take way more carbon dioxide out of the air, store that carbon in my woody mass, and release oxygen back to the atmosphere. Thanks Cam!” No really, that’s what the trees on my property are saying, right now! It’s fact. You can look it up!
If you make quilts or cook exotic meals as your hobby, good for you. I know how tempting it can be after a day at the computer to make my hobby “Netflix”. But heating with wood forces me to get off my ass and burn calories, and I just feel so darn good after a firewood session, regardless of what phase of the process I’m in. My ‘hobby’ is heating my home. I know, how lame eh? No, it’s marvelous. It’s awesome. Where’s my axe, I just listened to a newscast on the CBC!
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Readers of this blog might remember Cam’s stories of visits with Ken Snider, who had been born in this very house! We were saddened to hear of Ken’s recent passing.
To read about one of Ken’s visits, click here.