The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Friday, November 2, 2012

Wood Heat, There When You Need It

Watching civilization grind to a halt this week in New Jersey and New York has me reflecting on  the most underrated value of wood heating. That is, whatever comes, you can cook and keep warm if you have a wood stove and firewood. Generators and kerosene heaters are OK, but most folks have an aversion to keeping fifty or a hundred gallons of flammables stored around the house until doomsday, so they wind up with a couple of hours worth of generator power before they head out for the long lines, gas cans in hand. Solar generators are a little better as far as being "off the grid", but they won't run much in the middle of a winter storm. And gas stoves usually work, but they rely on the pumping station having power, and on the gas line network remaining intact.

That's why wood stoves are so great. As long as you have wood, or can scavenge some, you have heat and hot meals. You have a way to cook those frozen foods before they go bad. And sleeping on the floor or a couch in front of a glowing wood stove is a whole lot better than sleeping in a bedroom watching your breath form icicles on your eyebrows.

My storm preparations included loading up my indoor wood rack to make sure we had a full complement of dry wood; purchasing some Amish oil lamps and plenty of oil; and loading up on canned soup. And oh, yes, I filled up the cars with gas and parked them in locations away from creeks and trees.

As I loaded the forty or fifty cans of soup onto the grocery store checkout conveyor, the young lady gave me a puzzled look and said, "You like soup!" When I mentioned I was preparing for the storm, she looked perplexed and asked what storm I was talking about. When I explained that a huge hurricane was headed our way and was only about six hours away, she acted surprised, and then asked "Do you think they'll cancel classes tomorrow?"

I laughed when a radio talk guy said that he had checked with friends in NYC and was assured that they were ready...their iPads were fully charged. That's emergency preparedness for you in the 21st century. It seems less funny now, and a sad commentary on our ill-placed dependence on public systems and the grid.

Fortunately, there are at least a few thousands of folks in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia who are sitting warm and toasty around their wood stoves right now as millions of their neighbors sit shivering in the dark or in shelters. They are now fully appreciating that wood heat was used by our forebears as a means of survival, not merely for cozy ambiance. Although we in State College didn't lose our power (the storm seemed to swirl all around Centre County but never really dealt with us severely), I was prepared to keep my family warm for months and fed for at least two weeks without power.

And eventually, it will happen. Last year, we lost power for four days after a September ice storm. There are people in the know who say that eventually, many millions more of us will experience some kind of event that will make Sandy look like a dry run. It doesn't sound good, but it sounds a little better with a wood stove ready and waiting.

Send a link to this post to someone you know who is waiting for the power to come back on. They may not appreciate it now, but they'll thank you later in better times when they make that investment in their personal and family safety by Going Wood.

1 comment:

Patrick M. Kennedy said...

Our finished basement has been a nice 70-73 degrees over the past week. Thanks to the wood stove over the past week. Dry wood, kindling and a match was all that was needed.

Post storm clean up is providing wood for the next season.