Monday, November 9, 2009

Mindful Warmth 1 - Introduction

Some parts of this country have more heat than they know what to do with. In these northern climes, heat becomes a precious thing between October and April. It doesn’t come naturally. It must be made. And the making of it doesn’t come cheap. During the winter heating is a major part of the family budget, whether that heat comes from oil, gas, electric, wood pellets, or good old fashioned burning logs.
Most of those heat sources don’t require much thought beyond the writing of the check. You pay your money, and the guy comes with the big truck and fills that 250 gallon tank in the basement full of heating oil (basically diesel fuel). Or the gas guy comes and fills that big gas bottle outside with propane. Natural gas isn’t as common in this part f the country, but for those places that do have it, it works pretty much like electricity, piped directly into the house. Both sources come over the wire (or through the pipe) and you just pay the bill. You can arrange to have your wood pellets delivered, and you must then fill the hopper, but once the hopper is full, you’re good for a while.

Burning wood, though, that takes thought. I have been burning wood now for almost a week. I have been preparing to burn wood for about a year and a half. I must say that heating your house by burning wood is a qualitatively different experience from any other type of heating method I have experienced. It is a mindful, and intentional in a way that separates it from other common forms of household heating. This makes it perhaps the most eccentric and philosophical method of home heating. Perhaps you would see that as an undesirable quality – why would you want to have to think about your heat?

My answer to this is “because heat is costly,” and the cost is not measurable in mere dollars and cents. The extraction, processing, transport and distribution of energy makes up an enormous sector of our economy. It employs highly paid professionals like engineers and scientists as well as skilled and hard working technicians who run the machines, often in extreme and dangerous climates. Let’s not forget the risk-taking entrepreneurs who stake enormous wealth to find and develop this energy. If they win the bet, the payoff is big. Really big.

Governments negotiate for the rights to acquire energy. Elections can swing on it. Regimes rise and fall with it. Wars are fought over it.

So I view heating my home with wood as doing energy for amateurs. I am neither engineer nor scientist, nor wildcat roughneck. I’m just some guy who wants to keep his family warm through the snowy frigid winter months. I want to do it myself, instead of paying someone to do it.

Heating with wood may be cheaper in cash, but it is certainly more expensive in terms of attention, much like playing the piano yourself requires much greater attention than listening to a concert on a CD in the car. Wood heat is mindful heat. It is warmth that requires attention.

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