Nov. 5, 2008

Yes They Did!

Damn, it feels good. Who can remember an election result which unleashed such a surge of joy? Looking at the video clips of ordinary Americans, in cities across that fair land, cheering and laughing and dancing in the streets is enough to melt the heart of the crustiest old cynic. The slogan on everyone's lips, "Yes We Can!" is quintessential Yankee can-do optimism at its very best. And it's damned good to see after the dark, fear-ridden years of Bush and Cheney, when America showed its ugly side to the world. It feels like sunshine peeking out of dark clouds, like seeing an old and dear friend get up off his sick bed and dance.

It's good to see the Stars and Stripes waved in joy and pride by happy crowds of all ages, races and genders, instead of being used as a badge of exclusion and xenophobia. It's good to feel a whiff of positive change in the air.

I know, I know. There's plenty of reasons to be cynical about Obama; his militaristic stance on Iran, his backing of the Wall Street bailout, his silence on the Patriot Act. Maybe tomorrow or the day after that stuff will matter again, but today it just feels too damned good. Even just by getting elected, given his race and his name, he has let America cast off some old ghosts. Barack Hussein Obama took Indiana! He took Virginia!

Last night was very healing for America. And that country needs healing. President-Elect Obama is inheriting what someone called "the in-box from hell." Two unwinnable wars, a ruined international reputation, a looming ecological crisis, a deep financial crisis, a monster national debt.

But, if he has the will and the vision, he has some incredible assets as well. Last night we saw that he has the enthusiastic good-will of a large part of the American public. He has a democratic Congress to work with. And he has a big reservoir of international good-will as well. The rest of the world was rooting for him. Not only Americans have reason to celebrate.

Let's wish him, and America, all the best. Maybe they really can!

Nov. 2, 2008

Firewood Time

We're currently getting in our firewood for the winter. Yes, I know, we left it late this year. We always buy ten cords of logs, and this year because of various economic factors in the local forestry sector, a supplier proved difficult to find.

The logs have to be cut to stove-length with a chain-saw, split, trucked to the various buildings and then neatly stacked in the sheds. It's big job, but mostly a pleasant one. It's good healthy exercise, and keeps a body out-of-doors in the brisk fall weather.

We heat with wood primarily for practical reasons, but it's good to know that that according to George Monbiot, Guardian columnist,environmentalist and author of "HEAT," it's at least potentially carbon-neutral. That is, provided that the wood cut in a locality is no more than is regrown in the same year. The energy from fossil fuel and from wood comes from the same ultimate source; photosynthesis capture of solar energy. A plant, like a tree, is mostly built up of carbon-dioxide and water vapour; the energy of the sun allowing more complex hydro-carbons to be built up. When burnt, the vegetable matter releases the energy of its molecular bonds and returns to water vapour and carbon dioxide. The CO2 in oil or gas is millions of years old, and is for practical purposes a new addition to the atmosphere. The CO2 from trees is only a few years old and is just recycled back and forth.

It's amazing when you add it up, how many times each piece of firewood is handled in its lifetime. First, the tree makes it, as said above, out of mist and vapour, a small miracle. Then the tree is cut down, limbed, skidded to the landing and loaded onto a truck. It is delivered to us, and the logs are piled by the logger using a crane on his truck. Then I cut the logs, which might have to involve moving some of them around a bit by man-handling. After being cut, the round pieces are tossed aside to keep the work area clear. Later, each one is split, which may take several strokes of the ax for larger pieces. Then they are loaded in the pick-up truck, taken to one of the wood-sheds and piled.

In the winter, part of the daily routine is getting the day's wood ready. The pieces are taken from the shed, perhaps split again, carried to the cabin and stacked in a wood-box. Each is added individually to the fire as needed. Last of all, every two weeks or so it becomes necessary to clean out the ashes. That is the mineral residue the tree originally took from the soil, rather than from air and water.

This is a cold climate, often reaching minus twenty and occasionally minus thirty celsius in the winter. Firewood is important. A common item of conversation among country people here in the fall is; "how is your firewood coming along?"

It's good earthy kind of work. Remember the old Zen line; "Before enlightenment, carrying wood and hauling water, after enlightenment, carrying wood and hauling water." Something to look forward to!