Burning Wood Is Hot
Unless the offshore waters of the Gulf of Maine are transformed into a mega-billion-dollar windfarm, the Pine Tree State will become a frigid wasteland, uninhabitable except during the summers, when the rich folk from away visit their crumbling manses. That’s the crux of a recent warning from Angus King, the multi-millionaire who spent part of his fortune to buy two terms in the Blaine House.
(Don’t forget: King made wads of cash from selling a business to Central Maine Power and wasted his chance to lead and influence our energy policy while in office. For eight years, he promoted hair-brained Internet start-ups and call centers, and gave Bath Iron Works a couple hundred million dollars in tax breaks to replace human employees with robotic, non-union automatons.)
King should just keep his trap shut. We don’t need gargantuan schemes to survive future winters, especially scams connected to the huge interstate power grid that will stop distributing juice when modern society collapses. Survivors will have to think locally, and not just about food. Local energy will be essential — a slight problem for the roughly 440,000 Maine households that annually suck about 396 million gallons of black gold from the oil man’s nipple to heat their homes.
Thank goodness we’ve got 17 million acres of commercial forests.
I’m not saying everyone addicted to home heating oil should convert to wood, though it would take less than three million acres to replace the oil used in Maine. (About five acres of a properly managed and sustainably harvested woodlot will keep the average, well-insulated dwelling warm forever.) But in conjunction with solar, tidal and small-scale municipal and/or private wind projects, burning wood would keep Maine habitable despite what the big energy corporations want you to believe.
Maine’s forest-products industry also doesn’t want us to heat with wood. To them, trees are wasted in a stove. They view Maine’s timberlands as farms, growing the raw materials destined to become widgets for global consumption. The harvest, rarely done by hand these days, is computer precise, efficient and effective, thanks to the power and precision of hydraulics, diesel engines and GPS. The feller-bunchers, de-limbers and skidders work in a hurry, realizing climate change brings the spring thaw and mud season earlier and earlier each year. Softwoods are sawn into dimensional lumber or beaten into a pulp that’s milled into paper. Birch becomes toothpicks and golf tees. Oak and maple become floors and furniture. Our trees, owned mostly by private corporations, sell on the global market.
To those who complain wood heat is dirty, let me say this: Oil kills. On so many levels, oil is a killer. From illegal wars to indigenous oppression, from air pollution and toxic plumes to tainting our limited supply of potable water and the sin of raw crude fouling our shores and seas. Oil company executives should be indicted as mass murderers.
I love heating with wood. Thanks to my pals Mandy and Knuckles, I’ve got free and easy access to acres of trees with ocean views. Using my brand-new, 16-inch chainsaw, two gallons of gasoline cuts enough cordwood for the entire winter. The woodstove in the kitchen simmers my stews and sauces in the Dutch oven. Chicken and steak are deliciously seared on my cast-iron griddle.
Sure, wood stoves require more work than turning up the thermostat. Gotta tend the fire, lug the wood, deal with the ashcan, stoke the flames. And in the morning, sometimes, the house is cold. But it gets warm quick and it’s a warmth that’s real and crackles and pops, not a fake warmth derived from the mechanical hum and clang of the petro-fire in a basement box transported via ducts or pipes and paid for with hard-earned cash.
Here’s something you never see with oil heat: The beautiful woman comes in on a stormy, windy winter night Down East. She shakes away the cold and approaches the wood stove, unzipping her parka. The jacket drops to the floor. Hat and gloves are tossed onto the bench. Her long hair flows. She stands in front of the heat, undoing the buttons on her cardigan. She sheds the sweater and her t-shirt underneath. An Artic striptease. Too warm for pants. Every article — her silks, her socks — removed with the appreciation of the flames. Until she stands bare. Naked and glowing.