Sunday, March 22, 2015

Equinox II: Urgency and Importance

So Ernie says I tend to talk more when I'm stressed.  I think it applies to writing, too.
Hence my "quick equinox update" has turned into two posts, both plenty long enough. 

Especially when stressed or feeling a sense of scarcity, it's easy to get tunnel-vision.  The perceived scarcity hijacks the mind, causing us to focus on immediate, urgent concerns, even when they're not the most important.  (I really liked the book "Scarcity" and its insights into these problems.)

Urgent is time-sensitive: paying the bills, getting more wet cat food (even when there's plenty of other things to feed the cats, including mice).

 Important but not urgent might be taking more steps toward a sustainable and satisfying career, deepening relationships with loved ones, managing chronic health conditions, or getting out from under a high-interest debt.  It's easy to put things off if they don't come with a specific deadline, but the cost can be high.
Splitting the wood - 2013-14

One classic example is laying in fire wood.
Lighting the fire today feels urgent. (I have not been running the heater as much since we are down at the hospital for Ernie's care.) 
Today, I grab enough wood to start the fire, and stay warm. I split just enough for today.

Important, but perhaps not urgent, is drying enough firewood this year to provide for next year.  If the wood I split still feels tough and clingy, not yet fully dry, I set it aside.  (My fault for deciding to stack whole rounds instead of splitting earlier in the year; now that they're split, they'll be ready for next year.)
I take a moment to bring in a few wet logs that have been rolling around since last year's harvest, and stack them on the empty side of the shed along with the new-split wood.

I also find, just peeking up above the current stack, a little stash of kindling Ernie left when we stacked the wood last summer.  Normally he splits kindling every couple of weeks through the winter, and we have a little shielded cubby for it near the stove.  But while I was telling the guys to just stack rounds, we can always split it later.... Ernie laid aside a few days' worth of kindling way back in the woodpile, just to make life easier some day in the future.  And that turned out to be a blessing this week.
A Providentially-timed gift from our past selves: Ernie taking care of things, whether or not he's able today.

Firewood is a great example because like so many concerns, the earlier you address it, the more effective your efforts are.  If you harvest green wood in winter, it takes more than twice as much to stay warm.  If you store 4' logs instead of 15" splits, it may take ten times as long to dry.  If you are burning split cordwood, it is easiest to split either fresh and green, or bone-dry and checked - in between it turns all leathery and tough.

Burning wet or green (uncured) wood forces the fire to boil the wood dry before it can burn, and the evaporation uses a huge amount of the heat from the fire. Sometimes the resulting steam puts out the flames causing half your fuel to follow it up the chimney unburned as smoke or creosote. 

Whenever people ask about burning whole, long chunks of logs, it makes me think they are focused on the urgent, just-in-time method of wood harvesting.  Logs don't dry well, so you need a lot more storage if you are going to wait until they are dry to burn them.  Or you need to haul about 4x the weight to compensate for the reduced efficiency and the water weight of the wood. (Roughly 2x to 3x by volume.)

How much storage do you have for logs? In wildfire risk assessment, standing-dead fuels are rated as “1-hour, 10-hr, 100-hr, and 1000-hr” meaning it takes that long for them to adjust to the surrounding moisture level, and become more or less likely to ignite. I would roughly double that time if what you want is a clean, efficient fire with no smoke.

A set of fuels with similar traits. Fuels are categorized as herbaceous or woody and live or dead. Dead fuels are classed as 1-, 10-, 100-, or 1,000-hour timelag fuels, based on the time needed for fuel moisture to come into equilibrium with the environment:

1-hour timelag fuels: Dead fuels comprised of herbaceous plants or woody plants less than about 0.25 inch (6.4 mm) in diameter and the surface layer of litter on the forest floor.

10-hour timelag fuels: Dead fuels comprised of wood from 0.25 to 1 inch (0.6-2.5 cm) in diameter and the litter from just beneath the surface to around 0.75 inch (1.9 cm) below ground.

100-hour timelag fuels: Dead fuels comprised of wood from 1 to 3 inches (2.5-7.6 cm) in diameter and litter from around 0.75 to about 4 inches (1.9-10 cm) below ground.

1,000-hour timelag fuels: Dead fuels comprised of wood from 3 to 8 inches (7.6-20.3) in diameter and the forest floor layer >4 inches (10 cm) below ground ( National Wildfire Coordinating Group, Incident Operations Standards Working Team 1996).”

1000 hours is roughly 40 days, a month or two. 

So when I see a pile of 3 to 8” logs on the ground, being carefully kept moist by a tarp over top of them, I think, “There is some wood that will grow mushrooms before it ever gets dry enough to be worth burning.”

That's an old rant, and one you've probably heard from me before.

The bottom line is, if you can stay focused on handling the important things, a little bit each day, instead of waiting until they are urgent, you will save time and effort in the long run. 
If you put a few of those logs to work as a good woodshed, and fill one side as the other one empties, you will probably only need about half the fuel each year.  That's a big savings.

I think the same principle will apply to doing little tidbits of work from the hospital, the boat, or wherever you happen to be, and hoping it all adds up to being in a better place when we come out again.

Erica and Ernie