We localize our food by cultivating a vegetable garden and buying meat from local farmers. We localize our heat by burning firewood that didn’t travel far.
Wood work is one of the greatest pleasures of our low-consumption lifestyle. I love most of the tasks — splitting, stacking, hauling, burning — but I shy away from chainsaws. I’m not adept with machines, so I get a friend or a contractor to do this for me, though we have an electric chainsaw for small pieces.
We will burn about two cords of wood over the next six months, and one of those cords I bought for $180. This is still cheaper than oil heat, and we like to keep our money in the local economy. (That wood came from trees in Brimfield, 28 miles away, that fell in the tornado of June 1, 2011.)
We use so little wood because we have added a lot of insulation to our house over the years, had air-sealing done, and also get heat from passive solar, as I described here.
The first wood we’ll burn this year will be cottonwood, a softer variety from trees we had taken down 18 months ago. Then we’ll burn wood, mostly maple, that was given to us by neighbors who needed to remove trees from their yards. Next year, we’ll burn a cord and a half of red maple from two trees we had taken down and cut up last March. (Some of this wood that was unsplittable with my maul became usable thanks to a neighbor’s splitting machine.)
Wood heat requires planning ahead. The logs we’ll burn this year will have aged for over a year, drying out until you can see cracks in the grain. After the recent period of dry weather, we covered the wood that was still open to the elements with clear plastic or pieces of metal roofing, held in place by hunks of old rug.
Another reason to use local wood is the intractable march of two imported insects that are killing trees in New England: the emerald ash borer and the long-horned Asian beetle. These pests can’t travel far on their own, but can hitch rides with firewood.
Burning wood for heat enables us to stay in touch with natural cycles, letting sun and wind dry out the logs and adjusting the stove to respond to changes in the weather. I like to use my own labor to heat our house, and while staring at the flames on a cold January morning, I like to think of all of our ancestors who have done the same.
In Betsy’s last post, about working with stone, she ended by quoting Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time.” I’ll end with a different verse:
“Good blocks of oak it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good
That day, giving a loose to my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.”
Later in the poem, Frost captures the joy of splitting wood:
“…The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip on earth of outspread feet.
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.”
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