Monday, January 25, 2010

Things for which I've developed an appreciation since moving to Fairbanks

1) Eating meat. Sorry, veggie-heads. I still totally respect you, but I am too poor at planning to remember to soak beans every day, and I cannot forgo protein the way I used to when I lived in a warmer climate.

2) Country music. The country station pours out the the most heartwarming and least angsty stuff on the radio these days. Even when it's cliched, it's still enjoyable. Of course, I am easily emotionally manipulated and get a lump in my throat from Hallmark cards, so I'm a perfect audience. I also like the new brand of patriotism that's pervading country music. It's no more yammering about flags and eagles and beatin' up them tarr'rists. It's more about true love of our country and its best attributes. Lemonade stands and opening our hearts and wallets in the wake of natural disasters. Celebrations of multiculturalism and a braided history of America thrown into relief against stereotypical small-town hospitality. Again, I freely admit to being an easily manipulated sap, but I think it's quite wonderful.

3) Wood stoves. Aaaaaahhhh, there is nothing, absolutely nothing on earth like it. It heats the house so gently with its wonderful radiant heat. It mesmerizes the eye and cheers the spirit with its dancing orange flames. It's great for cooking soups, stews, pasta sauces, and the best darned quesadillas you will ever taste. And it's the most inexpensive, renewable, and rational form of heat. I had not thought about this before moving to Fairbanks, but now electric heaters strike me as astonishing and ridiculous. Heat is a waste product of most industrial operations. We burn stuff (coal, petroleum, etc) at the power plant to generate electricity. And this is done at great cost and low efficiency, with most of the potential energy of the burn fuel either lost as heat or just transformed into a form whose entropy is too high to be useful. How silly is it to burn something, to create electricity, and then run that precious electricity through a resistor to merely create heat? Why not just cut out the giant middleman and burn the fuel for heat directly? And here we have the lovely, lovely wood stove.

4) Firewood. I've come to learn that I am not the only person who obsesses over firewood. I remember the characteristics of each log I've split. I hold pieces of split wood to my nose and inhale the scent of wood. I admire particularly beautiful grains in the logs. When I split a particularly knotted, twisted, or otherwise challenging one, I put it aside so the next time anyone comes over, I can pull it out, show it off, and then inform them that I am getting stronger, but in the meantime can they please open the peanut butter jar for me? I also have strong opinions of what points in the fire's lifetime require which sizes of split wood, and when I want to throw in an armload of birch and when I want to throw in an armload of spruce.

I recently purchased my first firewood from somewhere else, as my stockpiles from when my land was cleared and my woods were thinned are running low, and I don't want to cut down any more of my own trees. Before this decision, I ruminated for nearly a month on the Big Question of whether to pony up an extra $25 a cord for nothing but birch. Beautiful, fragrant, straight-grained, and easy-splitting birch, low in tar and high in BTUs. I eventually decided to, and after it was delivered, I spent a good couple of hours stacking it very slowly so I could properly admire it as I went. And just when I think I am crazy for making cow eyes at a pile of firewood, I find that everyone else who splits their own wood does the same thing! I'm not crazy!

5) Husky dogs. But you knew that!

Edited to ad: The 2010 U.S. Census has begun in the Alaskan bush, with the first person counted residing in Noorvik.


Rena said...

Well, I'd argue with you about the renewable aspect of firewood. As you've found, one consumes the stuff far faster than it is able to regrow. Take for instance, the now-mostly-disappeared forests of western Europe that were consumed during the industrial revolution.

But on the other hand it sounds like you are appreciative and respectful of every log that goes into your fire, and in that way it's similar to how I feel about my eating meat - I choose carefully, eat sparingly, and am wholly appreciative of where it came from.

Oh, and country music - I totally understand. It's written from the heart, very honest stuff. You might look up Lucy Kaplansky; she's more folk than country, but the two are not far apart, I think.

biting tongue said...

I admire you for many things, but it is your willingness to grow and change and adapt to the world you've chosen for your adventure that puts me in the most awe.


mdr said...

I am glad you are buying some fire logs instead of chopping down everything yourself. I think the reward ratio (more time to work on other stuff, less risk to get hurt) is worth it buying logs. You also have more choices of wood. Birch smells good, you deserve it.

Arvay said...

I haven't been chopping down trees! I just had wood stacked all over the property from when the land was cleared and the woods were thinned several years ago.

I did find one big spruce tree that had died standing, so I called a tree removal guy to come cut it down for me. He even cut it into 3-foot lengths for me, and the stump is what I currently use to split wood on. It was a big tree; it is going to be over half a cord when I cut it to lengths for burning.

Purchasing firewood doesn't exactly give you "more choices" either, unless you count a choice of birch, spruce, or mixed birch and spruce. That's all we have around here. My native firewood has been about 50/50.

Arvay said...

By the way, all of this requires some advance planning as well, since it's a really, really bad idea to burn "green" (freshly-cut) wood. You have to let it sit around and dry before it's safe to burn.

Alaskan Dave Down Under said...

Woodstoves are by far the most coolest invention evah!