Here is a 250-year-old house in upstate New York. Go on in and, if you dare, open the door that leads to the cellar. That’s right, cellar – no basement here. Make your way down the creaking steps, if you dare, and peer into the darkness, but since you probably don’t dare (and I don’t blame you one bit), I’d be happy to tell you what’s down there, or at least what I suspect is down there, since empirical evidence is hard to come by, here at the Homestead.
What’s down there, besides forgotten jars of 100-year-old home-canned bread and butter pickles? A whole bunch of dirt, scraps of wood, mouse skeletons, possibly a human skeleton for all I know, and a furnace. I think, anyway. So far as I know, it’s never been turned on.
That’s because we’re tough, here at the Homestead, and we heat our house with wood. Wood which we (meaning Don the Magnificent) cuts himself, legally (not always the case in upstate New York) from orange-circled trees up on state forest land in the Adirondacks.
Chainsaw the tree – ROAR – to its knees.
Chainsaw it into giant chunks.
Chainsaw it into smaller chunks.
And yet smaller chunks.
Gather ye daughters, while ye may, and, with their help, heave the chunks into the back of the red pickup.
Head back to the homestead.
Gather ye daughters again, and, ignoring their whines, unload the chunks down by the big barn.
Take your maul and your wedge-thingie and set one of the chunks onto a giant stump and drive the wedge-thingie over and over into each of the the smaller chunks until they split into woodstove-size chunks. With daughters’ help, load up the woodstove-size chunks into the pickup and drive it up the dirt road to the Homestead.
Daughters, unload the chunks onto the porch. Form an assembly line and stack them the way I taught you.
Stack, stack, stack. This is my favorite part. How I love to stack, and I’m good at stacking, and stack I do until that porch is filled with 6′ stacks of wood, until the small barn is filled with 6′ stacks of wood, until there is enough wood, an amount determined by Don the Magnificent.
Settle back and wait for winter, never a long wait in upstate New York, and then fire up the woodstove. Note, the woodstove, not the woodstoves. One woodstove to heat the entire house, which, being 250 years old, is beautifully insulated and airtight – kidding! – so that one woodstove in the kitchen is more than adequate to keep everyone toasty warm.
But what is this we see? Three daughters and their tiny brother, huddled zombie-like around the woodstove. Crouched, hunched, their hands under their armpits. This is where the furnace comes in, if only because it is never turned on. It could be turned on, or so we conjecture, but it is not. That is because we are upstate New Yorkers, and we are tough. Or at least Don the Magnificent is. The rest of us wouldn’t mind a hit of furnace every once in a while. Even once a month, say, during the winter months, which in upstate New York go from late August to early June.
Just a hint of fossil-fueled warmth? A whisper of petroleum-based relief?