Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
As I rolled out of bed this morning having realized that it felt pretty cool on that part of my body that wasn’t under the covers, I realized that the wood stove had gone out during the night. The dog’s needed to go out, and I needed some heat in the house that clearly wasn’t going to get any warmer unless a fire was started in the wood stove. Yikes, that floor is cold. So after the dogs had been taken care of it was time to clean out the wood stove and get a fire going. As I sat here drinking my coffee I reflected back on how things for me had now gone full circle when it came to heat.
When I was a child growing up in Central Michigan one of my responsibilities was getting a fire started in the coal stove first thing in the morning. I was a skinny kid that had to stand up twice to even cast a shadow but getting heat in the house was a priority even though my skinny body lacked any insulation. I would get up, get dressed, go down to the basement where we had a large coal furnace and clean out the ash drawer, crumple up some newspaper get it lit and shovel in some coal. That old furnace was coated in what I know now was asbestos but back then we had no idea it was bad for us. Once the fire was started and going good I would hop, skip across the cement floor and run upstairs to stand on the floor register to warm back up.
Then it was time to get cleaned up and head off to school or if it was a weekend do my paper route. By then the coal stove would be stoked up and the house nice and warm and I had to leave all that nice heat. We had our coal delivered, which I used to enjoy watching, as the truck would back down our driveway and run a chute from it to our basement window and the coal would go down that chute into the basement. Of course the coal dust would be on everything in the basement and for the next few days I would wear it every time I went down in the basement. I don’t recall that the snow outside was any way effected by the coal smoke and it seemed like a pretty efficient way to heat if you ask me. Nearly everyone back then in the city where I lived had coal furnaces with chimneys spewing smoke. Only the more wealthy had oil heat where they could just set a thermostat not have to start a fire every day.
Then when I was older and bought our first house in Tampa, Florida, it had an oil fired furnace, too. That worked well for heat and was less work than the old coal furnace I had grown up with. Those terrazzo floors would get cold in the winter and even though Florida is considered a tropical state, it can get very cold for short periods of time in the winter. From there subsequent houses all had thermostats and a central source of heat, like a heat pump that blew cold air out the heat ducts but still managed to warm the house up. I never figured that out and missed those days when I could stand on a floor register to warm up. When you are shivering there is nothing like a floor register to get you toasty warm again.
Then we moved to our small cabin in the mountains. It can get down to 20 or more below zero here for days; but this morning it was only down to 26 degrees. So I was thinking I have gone full circle now. Seventy years later, I’m still getting up early, going across a cold floor to get a fire started. That coal heat was pretty fast, however the wood stove only heats up the house around 4 degrees an hour. It does radiate good heat though so standing next to it is almost as good as standing on a register. These modern cast iron wood stoves are actually very easy to use and safe and efficient.
So as I sat here drinking my coffee, feeling the radiant heat and watching the dogs slowly uncurl and move around, it seems like I have come full circle; only the form of heat has changed. Also, now instead of hop skipping across the cold floor I am doing more of a disjointed quick shuffle but heat is heat so here I am all these years later having gone full circle.
As the snow continues to fall outside and the wind blows and the temperature remains below freezing I think I will just sit here basking in the radiant heat and remembering how it used to be and how really it has not changed that much over the years. Yup, I’ve gone full circle and love every minute of it.