September 26, 2012

the woodpile and the woodstove: a learing curve

Once upon a time, in a fit of early relationship romanticism, I took Will up to the mountains near Eugene to cut down our first Christmas tree. On the way there we realized that there would probably NOT be a handy dandy chainsaw guy hanging around on the side of the hill, so we stopped at a Sears and bought the cheapest axe we could find. Except it wasn't an ax, it was a splitting maul. But since we were young and stupid and didn't know the difference, it's what we bought. We didn't realize that it was a splitting maul till later, I think my dad spotted it in our apartment (because, you know, that's what you have in your apartment when you are 20- along with the required futon and the rickety mismatched chairs) and told us what it was. Until then we just though we had a really crappy ax, because it sucked at chopping down Christmas trees. My dad always laughs at that story. Because despite spending most of our married life living in cities or medium to large sized towns in houses without fireplaces, we've held onto the thing. And everytime he (or we) see it leaning in a corner of whatever house we're living in, it's hard not to remember it's backstory. But what he didn't know (although, to be fair, how could he, we sure didn't) was that one day we would move to Vermont and have to learn how to use a wood stove. And after a few weeks of struggling with too large chunks of firewood, we would pull that crappy-Christmas-tree-cutting-thing out and holy cow, it's handy for chopping big wood chunks into small wood chunks (obviously, since that's what it's made for).

It's cold here in the mornings. Some days it's cold all day. And YES I know I ain't seen nothing yet. But still, it's hovering near the freezing point most nights, which means when we get up at way-too-early in the morning in order to get the kids on the also way-too-early in the morning bus, our house is pretty chilly. So we start up the wood stove. Haltingly, often with copious amounts of paper and sometimes a firestarter as well because I'd rather be a wimp and have to use firestarters than sit in a cold house all day.

Heating with wood is a thing here. So much of a thing that the local NPR station just did a show about how much of a thing it is. The culture of firewood. There is much debate surrounding the best way to stack it, and more debate over its virtues, or lack there of, on the sustainability front. There are showrooms for different models of wood stoves (we are lusting over something along these lines, pretty and functional!) and I can't tell you how often I've heard the phrase "It's the heating source that warms you twice! Once when you stack it and once when you burn it!" Although now that I'm experiencing it, I'd say it's more like three times, because splitting it into usable pieces is a pretty good workout as well.

We have, at the moment, half of our firewood "in". This week we gave away our hot tub (I know, those of you who love hot tubs are wondering WHY? But a) we don't love hot tubs and b) it needed a new cover for winter and therefore c) it seemed like a bad idea to pay to keep it running and pay for a new cover when we weren't really going to use it) which leaves us with an excellent spot to stack and store the other half of the wood we need to get though the winter. In fact, next year we have plans to build a new woodshed on the spot so that our wood is just out the sun room door instead of across the yard. See, I'm thinking ahead here. Of course, we also have plans to buy (and learn to use) a chainsaw so that we can cut some wood off our own land (according to the NPR story, 1/2 a cord per acre is the right amount to clear per year to keep things healthy and stable). And to get bees. And also maybe meat birds. Crazy, we are.

I'm developing a love hate relationship with this heating with wood thing. I love the smell of it. I love the way it heats you up. I kind of even love the ritual of hauling in wood (that may change). Actually, there's nothing I really hate about it, although I don't love our actual stove, I'm just not particularly good at getting a fire going. So I guess it's a love-not good at it relationship. I'm hoping that in time (and after the chimney gets cleaned on Friday) we will get better at getting it going. And then it will just be a love-love relationship (with a lot of sweeping).

Anyone else heat with wood? Advice would, of course, be much appreciated.