You knew it would happen. I was just getting used to living in the Banana Belt, when suddenly, winter returns.
Don’t get me wrong. I adore our winters. And if we don’t get snow, think about who won’t be getting water this summer. This is the headwaters of the Rio Grande. The river is fed by the snowmelt of our mountains. We better be hoping for snow!
Anyway, here it comes again, so for now, rest assured, the river will be running this summer.
And along with the snow comes the return of colder temperatures. So… a great time to talk about HEAT!
Our primary heat source is wood. We have two wood stoves: a large, industrial looking no-nonsense heating stove, and a cook stove. Every day, all year, begins with building the fire. Remember, at this elevation, even in the summer, our mornings will drop to about 40 degrees, and in the winter, that could go as low as 40 below. During the height of summer, perhaps we only rely on the cook stove to get the chill out of the air, and on which we cook our breakfast and might throw in a loaf of bread. During the dead of winter, both stoves will be going strong all morning long.
Every day, then, we take the time to chop wood, haul loads in by the arm full, and build our fires. And as much as I love my chores, tending to the fires is somehow more than a chore. There is something about fire – the giving quality it has, giving of heat, of light, of fuel for cooking; something so primordial yet magical that even when relied on day after day, does not lose its mysterious qualities; and something so basic and life giving, without which, we know, we could not live here. Fire is not a chore, but a ritual, a ceremony of our day, every day.
And, yes, on a practical level, this means a lot of firewood. On average, we will burn 8 cord a year. Even in our guest cabins, our primary heat source is wood. That means an additional 6 – 8 cord of wood every year
We’re lucky to have plenty of wood to clean up in our own woods, and have a mill near by that sells the scraps for fire wood at a great bargain. This ends up being the “greenest” option for us, considering the fuel is local, and wood stoves are much easier and cheaper to install than any other heating option. Both woodstoves, in fact, were used and given to us. In addition, we found that some of the fancier options being sold as “green” often leave a mighty large “footprint” to both build initially, and then to install.
For some folks, there is a downside of the wood stove. First, it’s “messy.” Yes, I confess, my clothes usually have wood chips and/or ash on them… along with hay seeds and horse hair probably. And the floor near the stove where we store the wood should be swept certainly more frequently than it is.
Second, it requires work. It’s true, if you want heat, you have to be there to put a log on the fire. A timer, a switch, a gage – those don’t get the fire burning here. But I’m here. Those bells and whistles don’t feed the horses, water the plants, or put away the chickens, either. Though I have known some folks to come up with some clever devices to try…
But I’ll stick with the wood stoves. Their simplicity, their efficiency, their ability to warm me to the core like nothing else when I come in damp and chilled, and the smell… yes, the smell. When I go out to do my chores in the crisp early morning, I smell the smoke of the cedar or pine, spruce or fir, sweetening the brisk and frosty air. And that smell brings me the same smile of a thought every time: the knowing that my home is cozy and warm.
Tomorrow, I’ll tell you the story of the stone wall behind the big wood stove.