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October 16, 2010


That is the back of my Suburban, third row of seats removed, filled with fresh, dry, pine kindling. Dry kindling is essential when you’re heating your home exclusively with wood. I had a few great years with discarded shingles; recycling the remains of the 1895 house roof and the exterior of our home, which was replaced with cedar siding. When the shingles ran out, we were like refugees in the woods, gathering wheelbarrow loads of sort-of-dry locust and maple branches. We would slow down driving past a roofing job, wondering what they were going to do with the old shingles and trying to implore the Yankee spirit to stop and ask and quit being so foolishly un-pushy. Needless to say, we didn’t stop. It’s not like they were friends or family. And besides, we had several acres of sort-of-dry wood.

The trick to burnable wild kindling is that if it is on the ground, it isn’t dry. Barring extended periods of drought or unusually sunny spots, any wood found on the ground in the forest is damp. Wood for a primitive survival fire, or for kicking off a woodstove blaze, should be cut from deadfall above the ground. That said, kindling can be dried, but who is going to lay all those sticks in the sun or in front of the stove to cure it? You need too much kindling, for too long, and in too many adverse weather conditions to deal with anything but already-dry wood. Besides, if you’re anything like me, you’re still spending your time cutting wood, splitting it and stacking it to be messing around with kindling.

That’s where the local “wood products” outfit comes in. Two highway exits away from my house there is a company that makes things like cupolas, swing sets, picnic tables and sheds. They put their leftovers out in their parking lot and a truckload can be taken for ten bucks (five bucks for a trunk-load.) I figured the back of the beach-buggy is equivalent to a truck’s short-bed, and I loaded it accordingly. Returning home, I filled fish totes, big bait-buckets, the eel barrel, and whatever else I could find. Those now-full containers will go in the basement where they will be nice and dry. We’ll split the pine boards up with a hatchet to make them even better kindling as we make our way through this winter, our third without using any oil for heat.

It would be nice to leave it that – a good recycled solution for kindling that nets a local company a few bucks and makes my life easier, but that’s not the whole story. Our house is a little large for heating with wood. The cathedral ceiling in the open-living-designed living room, dining room and kitchen means that when we fire up the stove on a cold night, you can actually feel a cool breeze move through the lower level. Two sliding glass doors on that level spells massive heat loss. A central ceiling fan helps to push the warm air down from the upper level, but it has to be constantly running – another energy suck.

Memories of last winter’s thermometer tally and the 43-degree mornings in the lower bedroom (and a very brisk bathroom) make me approach the coming season with less bravado than dread. In for a penny, in for a pound, I have no temptation to touch the thermostat and let the fossil fuels go to work. If I were Bill Gates, or even Bill Belichick, I might look into a solar thermal radiant flooring system that could provide supplemental heat for the house. I haven’t that kind of change, so I need to reduce heat loss in the home. There go those dollars again. For a relatively small price I can make heavy curtains for the windows, focusing first on the sliders. When I was a child, I played at the home of a friend who lived in a modern home with giant windows. There was velcro tape around the perimeter of her bedroom windows, and I remember visiting in the winter when heavy, quilted fabric was rolled down and secured over the window opening. Good idea – I might have to borrow that concept, now that I’ve got the kindling sorted out.

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