Home and Hearth

The typical (since 2000) end of winter woodpile

Replenish as you deplete: that has been the Rule of the Woodpile since we moved to Goose Creek in 1999 and spent our first winter in Y2K.

Until maybe eight years ago, this meant extraordinary measures involving me (and oftentimes also Ann) getting down and dead wood to the stacks by cutting and tossing downslope, cross creek, upslope and carry or end-over-end to the truck for way longer a distance than efficiency or good sense would dictate.

Then the time came I realized I could buy a year’s worth of wood for a couple of days work in the PT clinic, and replenishing as depleted only required finding a reliable source of responsibly-cut wood a year or two in advance of need.

My 10 foot runners stacked two stove-lengths deep and five feet high hold 125 cubic feet of wood. A cord is 128. So I knew how much wood I needed to fill the available space; I knew how much wood the dump truck load would leave in Yucca Flats below the house.

And so while there were brief gaps in the wood stacks, by the time wood burning season was passed, the stacks were filled in, drying, and waiting on the inevitable return to the duty of feeding the open maw of a voracious and insatiable wife-heating wood stove for another year.

Today’s withering, vanishing, unreplenished, final wood pile for the Firsts

That was then. This is now. I’ve taken up the empty runners (mostly locust) and stored them near the propane tanks, in case the next folks want to burn wood. And why would they not? We are leaving at least one of the QuadriFire stoves in place and the hills continue to offer windfall oaks, cherries, poplars and hickories–many of which lay where they fell this past winter, since I am out of the wood-cutting biz on Goose Creek.

I can’t tell you the extent to which this wood-centered seasonal ritual has driven my days for six months or more for the past two decades. And looking out on the bare runners; seeing out my office window what might be the last firewood I ever burn grow less and less: this is a kind of trauma of change typical of so many disturbances to our usual ordinary that are the cost of doing business when relocating.

At The Other Place, there is not currently an option for burning wood. But there are seven acres of hardwoods that are reasonably accessible for that purpose. We plan to live there through the first winter with the existing heat pump and gas logs and see if we can live contentedly without wood heat.

I have my doubts.

What is Your Barbeque Footprint?

Labor Day for many marks (or used to mark) the end of summer and the return of the kids to school. By that time, Floyd County students will have been in sweltering classrooms for almost a month. But that is not the point. Labor Day may also be at or near the end of the outdoor grilling season. And that brings us to today’s burning questions:

► Where does my charcoal come from?

► What is my BarBeQue Footprint? and…

► What is this stuff anyway and now does it compare to Propane?

All this was triggered a few weeks back when I was at Lowes (a once or twice a year visit) and found on sale two huge bags of Kingsford Charcoal. Heck, this might be a lifetime supply at our age!

But given the fact that wood from just behind and above us most likely ended up as pellets for European Power Plants, I wondered about the history of these particular black briquets and how responsibly they are produced, and where.

Well first I found out that all sorts of organic matter can be burned while oxygen-starved to create the high-heat low-smoke product we call charcoal. It contains no COAL, by the way.

Olive pits, grape vines, and corn cobs make good charcoal. Hmmm…

► Idea: a corn-cob to charcoal industry from ag waste in Floyd and other rural counties?

Barbecuing sustainably: How not to burn rainforests in our grills | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | https://www.dw.com/en/barbecuing-sustainably-how-not-to-burn-rainforests-in-our-grills/a-44543655

Comparing the BTUs of charcoal to propane, here’s the scoop: There are 91333 BTUs in a gallon of Propane and 4.7 gallons of propane in a 20 gallon tank. So that’s about 430,000 BTUs in a typical full tank.

There are 9700 BTUs in a pound of Kingsford briquets. This makes a tank of propane approximately equal to about 44 pounds of charcoal. You can price the two and do the math. Only consider that charcoal burns hotter, gives your grilled meats and veggies the smoky taste most folks want from cooking outside, and did not come from fracked gas through pipes in sone good person’s former back yard.

The Science of Charcoal: How Charcoal is Made and How Charcoal Works https://amazingribs.com/more-technique-and-science/grill-and-smoker-setup-and-firing/science-charcoal-how-charcoal-made-and

But where DOES Kingsford charcoal come from—and one should ask because SOME comes at the cost of burning tropical trees. I asked Kingsford and was told they product comes from domestic lumber mill waste only.

Kingsford (charcoal) – Wikiwand https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Kingsford_(charcoal)

And final trivia fact: this well-known company derived from Ford Charcoal–as in Henry and Ford Motor Co. Early on each car was trimmed with wood and there was a lot of waste. So the idea: let’s make charcoal. And early on, the only place you could get it was at your Ford Dealership!

So get grillin before the autumn’s chillin.

Everything You Need to Know About Charcoal | HuffPost https://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-goldwyn/charcoal_b_858606.html

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Snows of Narnia

If every snowflake is different, then every snowfall must be too.

This one was unique. It was the last snow to fall before my personal odometer turns to a new zero.

And so I am trying to pay attention to the details. And the details of this snow were worth attending.

I confess I used PixelBender oil paint filter to attenuate the branching snow shapes just a little; it impressed me as a scene out of a fairy tale–maybe Chronicles of Narnia, and so I rendered the image to bring that out a bit. [click to enlarge image ]

The Fading Faint Colors of Fall

Click image for larger view

It has not been a spectacular year for fall colors in our part of the Southern Appalachians.

The prolonged late-summer drought seems likely to have contributed to the subdued palette, but the alchemy of autumn is a many-splendored mystery with regard to the exact combination of temperature and moisture and sun and wind and plant attitude.

So we did not expect and did not see spectacular maples, hickories or beech on the parkway in our short walk a few days back. But there is color in places not seen from a tourist’s vehicle. You can find it if you look for it. Even the understory B-string of fall has something to show in its way out.

Here, the summer greens of cinnamon ferns fade to reveal the other-than-chlorophyll pigments that contribute to the work of photosynthesis. And another year concludes–at least above ground–until the days lengthen again in another six long-night short-day months.

When The Bottom Falls Out of the Food Web

Single blister beetle hanging out, ready to make whoopie.

Most people might think it’s a good thing–that there are demonstrably and significantly fewer insects than there were three decades ago.

But consider that these morels are critical links between the primary producers (grasses and other greenery that turns sun into food) and the chain of upper-tier eaters that depend on insect biomass to keep their own bodies warm and populations from crashing.

Scientists have long suspected that insects are in dramatic decline, but new evidence confirms this.

Research at more than 60 protected areas in Germany suggests flying insects have declined by more than 75% over almost 30 years.
And the causes are unknown.

“This confirms what everybody’s been having as a gut feeling – the windscreen phenomenon where you squash fewer bugs as the decades go by,” said Caspar Hallmann of Radboud University in The Netherlands.

“This is the first study that looked into the total biomass of flying insects and it confirms our worries.”

I always monitor the goldenrod of September as a kind of biological clock telling me where we are on the celestial rotatation towards autumn. In particular, there is a tan blister beetle that uses this plant as a “hooking up” spot, to meet, greet, eat and procreate.

There are usually numerous pairs on every plant around the edge of the garden. This year, there were four pairs–total. I could go on with similar stories about other insects gone missing.

Turns out our canary in the cage might be an insect after all.