Fireplaces Are A Rare Luxury

51028thumbThere are fewer fireplaces after every significant earthquake. Removal of a damaged chimney is probably more practical than repair, particularly if the fireplace does not get much use anyway. Wood stoves sometimes get removed simply because they are in the way. Modern building codes forbid their return once they are gone, and also forbid them in new construction.

The few surviving fireplaces and wood stoves do not get used as regularly as they used to. It seems that no one is around the home long enough to tend to a fire. Orchards that provided so much affordable firewood as they were being removed for urban development are gone now. The outskirts of town, where trees and woodlots might be found, are now more than a short drive away.

Firewood can still be purchased from tree service businesses that must dispose of the wood that their work generates. Because such firewood is a byproduct of urban forestry, it is an unpredictable mix of all sorts of urban trees, and must be procured early in the year to be seasoned by autumn and winter. It is now much too late to purchase green firewood for this winter.

Almost all types of urban firewood are comparable to more traditional types. A few types deposit more residue in chimneys, so that chimneys need to be cleaned more frequently. Firewood from woodlots can be surprisingly more expensive; but it burns cleaner, and is already seasoned. Many woodlots would be pleased to deliver firewood that is ready to burn now.

Firewood is perishable, so only slightly more than enough for one year should be procured annually. Any leftovers can rot if left out in the weather too long. Firewood last longer in a shed or garage, but takes up too much space, and can be attractive to rodents.

Synthetic logs from the supermarket happen to be more efficient than real wood, and do not need to be seasoned. A single log burns longer and cleaner than a few real logs, and produces as much heat. However, they are individually very expensive, and are just not the same as real firewood.


The Great Pumpkin

P81007The Third Day of Creation was when it all started. Plant life was created just two days after Heaven and Earth, and Night and Day. It must have been a pretty big deal. Humans were not created until three whole days later!
After all this time since Creation, the flora of the World is still just as important as it has always been. Vegans can survive without the consumption of animal products, but no one can survive without the consumption of plants, or the consumption of animals who were sustained by plants. We breath oxygen generated by plants. We live in homes made of wood. We wear clothes made of cotton. Until relatively recent history, wood was the primary fuel for cooking and warmth through winter. Even modern fossil fuels that have replaced wood are derived partly from fossilized plants. There seems to be no end to the long list of what plants do for us.
As if all that were not enough, plants provide pleasure. Some are dazzling desert wildflowers. Some are majestic forest trees. Most are something in between. Many are invited to inhabit our gardens, landscapes and even our homes and offices. Some are bred to do what they do even better than they did originally.
David Paul, in the picture above, made a career of cabinetry, which involved all sorts of fancy and exotic woods. Most of these woods were derived from genetically unimproved trees that would have been found growing in the wild. Most were from eastern North America. Some were from other continents. Some of the favorite maple burls were specifically from New England and the Pacific Northwest. David Paul was no horticulturist, but he knew quite a bit about the flora that produced the fancy woods that he worked with.
The pumpkin is another story. David Paul grew giant pumpkins for several years in Colorado Springs merely because he enjoyed doing so. It required serious dedication throughout the entire long growing season. Yet, the pumpkins were grown only for the fun of competition. As huge as they were, they were not to be eaten. That is the epitome of growing something merely for the fun of it. This is such an excellent picture of that epic pumpkin that it was the illustration for the obituary of David Paul.


P71027Heating homes has certainly changed. It has gotten much more efficient and less polluting. Homes are much better insulated than they were only a few decades ago. Heating systems use much less fuel, and produce much cleaner exhaust. That is partly how more than a million people who live in San Jose now make less smog than when there were half as many.

The unfortunate part of that efficiency is the decline in popularity of traditional fireplaces and stoves. Burning wood is now politically incorrect, and at times, even illegal. ‘Spare the air’ days are strictly enforced when air quality gets unpleasant.

In San Jose, building codes do not allow fireplaces to be build into new homes. Only homes that were build with fireplaces or stoves prior to the ordinance are outfitted with them. Fireplaces that are damaged by earthquakes are often removed instead of repaired.

Tending a fire does not fit into modern lifestyles very well anyway. If someone stays home long enough to do so, he or she is too busy with other work. Tending a fire simply is not considered a common household chore anymore. Fireplaces do not have thermostats, so do not maintain the sort of consistency in temperature that so many of us have become accustomed to.

Those of us who still use our fireplaces (when permitted) must procure firewood. There are no more deteriorating orchards to supply it. We can not grow our own because permits are needed to cut down trees that are big enough to make firewood. Permits are only granted for trees that must be cut down for other reasons. The need for fuel is not good enough.

Consequently, it becomes necessary to purchase expensive firewood. To some of us, it is still worth it. We can either purchase mixed firewood from a tree service, or get it from a firewood cutter in the Santa Cruz Mountains. There always seem to be more trees that need to be cut down than are needed for firewood.