Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Like many farmers and ranchers, I keep a journal of my daily activities - both as a record and as a way to compare one year to the next.  As many of you know, I also like to take photos of what we're doing with the sheep.  In the coming 12 months, I'm going to try to combine these activities (probably mostly for my own enjoyment, but I hope some readers will enjoy it, too).  I'm going to post a photograph everyday (hopefully) for the 12 months beginning on October 1 - a photo of whatever happens to catch my eye that day.  Why October 1?  Because on our operation, that's the day we turn the rams in with the ewes - the first day of the sheep new year!  Most photos will be sheep related; some will be reflective of that rare day off!  And I'll post them with the tag #sheep365.

I hope my sheep-raising friends (actual and virtual) will do something similar - I always learn something from others who are raising sheep in other parts of the world!  Most of all, I hope to have fun doing this!  Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Why We Heat with Wood

In our adult lives, Sami and I have "owned" (at least in partnership with the bank) two homes.  We've heated both homes with woodstoves.  In our current home, we actually had a natural gas heater replaced with a woodstove.  And while the air quality regulations have continued to make it more difficult to heat with wood, we've actually disconnected our central heating system.  I would have a very hard time giving up my wood heat - for practical and philosophical reasons.

We get our firewood locally.  Our friends Allen and Nancy Edwards own timber land in Colfax - land that they are continuously trying to make more fire safe.  This process involves removing woody vegetation - Douglas fir, live oak and manzanita, mostly.  This becomes our winter fuel.  For me, this represents a shortening of the carbon cycle - our winter warmth is directly related to the safe removal of carbon from the Edwards' property (which, in turn, reduces the likelihood of an uncontrolled release of carbon from wildfire).  If we still burned natural gas, the geographical distance between the production of carbon and winter our comfort would be greatly extended.  I like the fact that our heat is local!

Secondly, heating with wood gives us some measure of self sufficiency.  We can be warm all winter because we cut firewood.  Wendell Berry has written that he'd rather know how to cut and split firewood, and how to build a fire, than how to turn up his thermostat - and I agree.  My dad used to say that heating with wood heats you three times - when you cut it, when you stack it and when you burn it.  I simply like the fact that I can pay for our winter heat with my own labor.

Berry's point also suggests that more skill and knowledge is required to heat our home with wood than it would be with fossil fuels (at least on my own part).  I have to know which trees or shrubs to remove to make the forest more fireproof.  I need to know how to safely operate a chainsaw.  I need to know how to efficiently load and unload my truck.  I have to know how to stack wood so it will cure and stay stacked.  I have to know how to build a fire.  I have to know how to maintain my woodstove and chimney.  I have to know how much wood I need to heat our home for the winter.  I take a great deal of satisfaction from these skills.

As I mentioned earlier, our winter heat is directly related to the health of the environment in our community - our 3-4 cords of firewood help make the forest around Colfax, CA, more fire-safe.  But this connection runs deeper than that for me.  The solar energy captured by the trees at Allen and Nancy's is released in our woodstove.  Their sustainable harvest of this material is directly responsible for my family's comfort.  This connection is important to me.

Finally, nothing warms me like wood heat.  The late Ivan Doig, one of my favorite authors, wrote that his dad said nothing warmed the rivets of his Levis like the woodstove.  I can come home soaked through my clothes and shivering with cold - the woodstove warms me right up.  Natural gas, propane and electricity just aren't the same!