Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Air, Code, and Rocket Mass Heaters

Another rocket mass heater successfully passed inspection in Washington state in 2018.  We are getting further details from the owner-builders, and I've asked for permission to share them publicly.

For now, I can say that they followed their local building permit process, and it all went quite smoothly.  They submitted plans to the county; got their permit including some detail on ASTM E1602, R1002, and state code requirements; followed those plans and the recommended clearances and thicknesses; and had no difficulties with their final inspection.  The building official brought a fire marshal along to see the thing.  Both had done their homework and were favorably impressed by the whole project.

The only help we provided was the initial drawings, and one hands-on session on "cob and natural plasters" to help them get a feel for earthen materials.

Congratulations to everyone involved. I hope we'll have permission to share some pictures and more details here soon.


One of the things that did not occur in this case, thankfully, but still sometimes comes up in other jurisdictions was an obsolete local requirement for "outside combustion air."

Most experts now agree that outside combustion air is ineffective at its intended purpose, and experienced builders often add that it can be downright dangerous.

This is the most cogent explanation of why outside  combustion air is ineffective that I've seen yet:


Here are a couple of quotes:

"An important distinction to make is spillage RATE and spillage SUSCEPTIBILITY. Tighter doors will reduce spillage rate, but not spillage susceptibility. Outside air can also be shown to not reduce spillage susceptibility, since it does not lower firebox pressure, relative to the room - this is the function of the chimney (if outside air lowered firebox pressure it would, in fact, be a chimney - not a good thing.)"
 [My emphasis]

"Like most building codes in North America, the NBC had included outdoor combustion air requirements for combustion equipment on the assumption that it was a good strategy to reduce spillage susceptibility.  Unfortunately the assumption was acted upon before any research had been done to explore how outdoor air supplies actually behave.
Although the two studies were conducted by two labs with different set-ups, different protocols and different appliance types (1. factory-built, 2. masonry), they arrived at the same conclusion: The susceptibility to combustion spillage due to room depressurization is not affected in a predictable way by the presence or absence of air supplied from outdoors, whether supplied to the combustion chamber or indirectly through a supply duct terminating near the fireplace.
In both studies the reference room depressurization at which spillage was induced was 10 Pa.  In 'Fireplace Air Requirements', none of the five tested fireplaces spilled at 5 Pa depressurization despite the fact that all were very different in their configurations and features, although all did have glass doors.  The tests at the two depressurization levels were done with and without outdoor combustion air supplies.
Once the research findings were in and analyzed, the underlying physical process became clear:  That is, air flows to a zone of lower pressure through any available opening, regardless of our wishful thinking.  In retrospect, this principle appears rather obvious, although for most of us it was not, until revealed in the lab."

From other sources and builder discussions, some of the intrinsic dangers of outside combustion air:

There is a real risk of the air inlet acting like a chimney.  This is even more likely in cases where the outside air is being brought into a basement, or atop an existing slab, and the inlet hole is above or on level with the firebox. 
  A wind gust that catches the exit chimney just wrong, or a cold plug in the chimney, can push air/smoke downward.  While this is unpleasant and dangerous at any time, in cases where outside air is installed, it more or less allows the house a two-way path to "fart fire."  If the wind situation on the exit chimney were particularly ill-fated (such as a chimney improperly installed in a "wind scoop" area below some nearby buildings or roof shapes), the outside combustion air inlet could potentially create a stable new pathway for the downdraft to continue unobserved. 
  Imagine flames, hot smoke, and embers rushing through the outside air inlet (which in many early examples was no more fire-resistant than your average dryer vent, made of flexible aluminum duct that could melt if exposed to direct flame for more than a moment).  The flames and smoke will at best emerge from the vent inlet in the crawl space; at worst, they will destroy some element of the air inlet and create a new opening to escape within the walls or home.
  There have also been problems with heat conductivity of airtight (metal) materials used to create the outside air; sometimes to the point of damaging combustible materials used for chimney-chases and exterior finishes.  Experienced fireplace builders have been surprised at the amount of heat transmitted backwards by an outside air inlet, which may reduce the customary thickness of masonry floors and walls where it is installed.

  Outside air is usually brought to the bottom of the firebox (it being an obvious problem if it is brought into the top like a chimney), which means embers and hot ash can fall into it, heating it and/or clogging it. 
We are not big fans of "ash cleanouts" generally - complicated trapdoors that are neglected more often than not, with fiddly little doors prone to failure.  A combination cleanout/air supply is almost guaranteed to not work well for either purpose over time - if it's collecting ash, it's clogging the air supply, and you definitely want that air supply to continue right through the end of the fire.
  We generally prefer a smooth, easily cleaned, easily observed firebox floor that keeps ash buildup where owners can easily notice and deal with it during routine operations. 
 Inaccessible cleanouts that fill up with ash, and then collect any dribbling creosote, can create a real mess that doesn't need to be there.  As a fire fighter, I've worked in a crawl space below a chimney fire, where over 4 feet of dead chimney space led to a crawl-space cleanout that was very difficult of access, and almost undetectable to the average person.  The door was warped, and a previous occupant had duct-taped the warped part. 
In this case, the whole mess inside the chimney was on fire, to the point where some of the chimney masonry was starting to conduct heat to framing members as secondary ignition points, and the cheesy cleanout doors made it difficult to cut off the air to the chimney.
I much prefer a little honest mess, with a tidy metal ash bucket in the room next to the fuel opening, over a hidden and dangerous mess that nobody will see or deal with until it's too late.
Likewise, I'd much rather feed my stove from the comfort of the living area, and have my stove exhaust stale room air and help bring fresh air in for me to breathe, than try to separate it from the house and go outdoors to check its inlets and tend its needs.

Finally, many owners and builders point out that outside air retrofitted to well-designed fireplaces, stoves, or heaters can substantially increase the experience of smoke in the face (and in the room). 
  Nobody likes smoke in their face.  Our ancestors did a considerable amount of tweaking of the indoor hearth to ensure it didn't happen.  One of the biggest drivers of rocket stove development is the reality that many households still have open hearths for cooking today/
  In the industrialized world, for the last several centuries, we have used chimneys to solve this problem.  A hot chimney pulls room air through the stove and out.  Most heaters, stoves, and fireplaces that have been developed since chimneys came into use have openings sized and/or shaped to allow this room air to carry smoke along with it, even when any doors are open for fueling.  Now if you swing a door open quickly, of course you can "pull" a gust of smoke into the room, but most people can learn to avoid that within a few tries.  (We even managed to live with hoop skirts and open fireplaces for a considerable amount of time, albeit with more tragic lessons in many families.) 
  In case of a Rumford fireplace, a "curtain" of room air continually sweeps smoke back into the chimney throat.  In other cases, the whole feed opening may be sized so that the chimney can pull enough air to fill it.  Glass doors on fireplaces may be double-hinged to reduce the "fan" effect, and allow users to control the opening size.  
  Now, if there's outside air coming up in the floor of the stove, how can the chimney pull room air through the opening?  The chimney is already getting plenty of air from the main firebox.  Any smoke that happens to be on the room-ward side of the air inlet is now free to come outward into the room, any time you open the door to feed the fire. 
This problem about competing air inlets and smoke escape into the room is part of why it's so complicated to install an effective, safe, outside air inlet to the stove.  The new air inlet more or less needs to be exactly where the old air inlet was, right at the room door, and it will likely be pointing in the wrong direction to prevent smoke escapement into the room.  So in many builders' experience, outside combustion air may in fact make the users experience more smoke in the room, instead of less.

All these problems are intrinsic to outside combustion air.

  The fundamental problem, as with many "solutions to imaginary problems," is that adding a new feature adds complexity.  Complexity increases the chances of failure, and guarantees more expense both initially and whenever repairs may be needed to remedy those failures. 
  Building codes are generally immune to complaints about cost (despite the huge deficit of affordable housing on the market, with homes that raised many generations in good health no longer making the cut today).  But at least the code committees do occasionally reverse a bad decision when proof is available.

Mandatory outside combustion air does not solve the safety problem it was intended to solve, and in many cases the attempt to install outside air would add other safety problems.

- Outside air is no longer required in Canada, or most US jurisdictions. 
Make-up air is allowed (air brought to the room instead of the combustion unit).  The only language still in the Canadian and US model codes is along these lines: if outside air is provided, it must be installed according to certain guidelines for safety.

- Carbon monoxide detectors are recommended, regardless of heat source. (Automated furnaces that meet code, but could leak CO under negative pressure, are arguably even more dangerous than a woodstove die-down leak, since at least the wood stove eventually runs out of fuel and stops producing CO.)  A CO detector requirement is a performance-based standard, that deals with the actual problem if and when it occurs. 
 - In cases where negative pressure problems are real, such as airtight houses with too many exhaust fans:
   Many heater installers feel that exhaust fans (such as kitchen and bathroom fans) should be made responsible for their own make-up air supply, to reduce the likelihood of indoor negative pressures over 10 Pa in the first place.  There are plenty of air-to-air heat exchangers on the market that supply incoming fresh air while capturing a little bit of the waste heat from exhausted air; both passive (convection driven) and with intake-and-outlet fans hooked to the same electrical supply.

- Another common cause for negative pressure problems is the common-sense approach to a leaky house: occupants can feel cold incoming drafts, and attack them with weather sealing on ground floors and crawl spaces - but they can't detect the outward leaks in the attic hatches, upstairs windows, and overheads, so those leaks are allowed to continue unpatched. 
Overhead hot air leaks can be detected from outside the home with an IR camera.  If you don't want to buy one yourself (a reasonable one with software can now be obtained for about $200), most home energy audits include an inspection with a professional-grade IR camera. 
  For starters, visit your attic in winter.  If it's warmer up there than outdoors, and especially if condensation is occurring on the bottom of your roof, you probably have some hot air leaks to deal with.

- Startup and Die-Down Phase Management:
  It is worth noting that the most common time for solid-fueled appliances to release indoor CO is during startup (when the chimney is cold), and during die-down.  Die-down is more insidious as there is no smell for owners to detect - but at least with a solid-fueled heater, it only lasts a short while. (Compared to automated furnaces, which might release CO undetected for hours or days in case of a negative pressure issue in the house.)
 Priming (warming) the chimney prior to starting the main fire is an old family tradition.  We used to use a wad of newspaper, light it and hold it near the chimney throat to "check the draft."  (It also allows you to detect if the damper is closed on an unfamiliar fireplace or woodstove).  Nowadays I have seen people use everything from a candle to a propane torch. 
  The startup phase usually doesn't take long to overcome; especially if the house or heater mass is warmer than outside air.  In extreme cases, we might wait until the outdoors cools down at night, or in the early morning, to prime a thermal-mass heater that was stubbornly colder than the warm outdoor air of an autumn afternoon.
  For the die-down phase, the solution is even easier. Thermal mass in the stove - even firebricks often used in conventional iron woodstoves - can hold enough heat to help the chimney draft properly through the die-down phase.  A good operator will also keep the fire going, or help it burn out cleanly, without allowing it to linger in this phase too long.
  Regardless of the type of heater or stove, a good CO detector can be a life-saver.  Combination CO and smoke detectors are now available, and commonly installed in many residences.

  Leaving a woodstove to burn unattended at night while owners sleep is intrinsically risky, not only for CO but for all the reasons the fire itself is risky.  Do you trust all the critters in your house never to drag toys or nesting materials up next to the stove before you awake?  Do you let your loved ones stack or hang combustibles near the stove to dry, that might get knocked closer in the night? 
"Damping down" the fire, a common practice to get overnight heat from a space-heater woodstove or fireplace that wasn't designed to provide it, makes it more likely to release CO into the room, and to coat the chimney with creosote and eventually cause a chimney fire.

This is one of the reasons we love masonry heaters.  After running the fire responsibly and efficiently for a few hours, the owner can put the fire safely out before going to bed, and still enjoy overnight heat.  The time window for smoke-related mischance is much smaller, and the benefits much greater, than with most other forms of wood heat.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

40 Days of Ice and Fire - Conclusion

Today is Easter.  Happy Easter!

Hiking Good Friday evening
Last night, Catholics and other old-school churches celebrated Easter Vigil.  Instead of filing into church, everyone gathers outside by a big open fire.  As the evening darkens, the Paschal (Easter) Candle is lit from this fire, and leads the group into the church.  Once we are all inside, the flame is passed from the main candle to smaller candles, one person turning to the next, until the darkened church is filled with points of live flame and all the faces within are lit by candlelight.
It's a lovely, amazing ceremony.
And once again, as at all these services I've attended in my life, nobody caught anybody's hair on fire.  (People do tend to put out the candles after the initial sharing of the light, so as not to have to watch them during the following parts of the service.  The next thing that happens are 9 or so readings, starting from "In the Beginning" on up through Paul's Epistles, during which there is traditionally a lot of squirming and fidgeting from the youngest members of the congregation.)

Serviceberry blooming, dusk.
There are a lot of other New Fire traditions for the turning of the year. I can't help seeing connections even to ordinary burn piles; disposing of unwanted weeds and dead brush before it chokes or becomes a fire hazard against this year's plans.  Other celebrations of "freshness and renewal" include the Persian-derived Nowruz, with jumping over seven fires, feasts of specific treats, and household ceremonial displays throughout the old Persian empire.

(You can argue whether some New Fire traditions are older, or whether they are the same or different.  Aztec "new fires" involved human sacrifice, as did many of their ceremonial occasions... and probably some of the old European rites did too.  The spiritual process of sacrifice and rebirth is critically important (buried seed to plant, past intentions to present growth), but to illustrate it with murder seems barbaric.  It feels like progress on a humanitarian scale that we now celebrate it symbolically.
I do eat meat, and can't quibble about those who raise a Paschal or Passover lamb instead of eating something anonymous. But I shy away from decorating with blood, let alone killing a living person each year, or even driving away a living scapegoat.  There may be benefit to bringing communities together; but I appreciate the modern approach: remind us each individually to examine our own hearts, and to atone for our own mistakes by supporting others in solidarity... not just conveniently shift the guilt and sacrifice onto one or two token lives.)

I started this 40-day series intending to nudge myself to make more artwork. I still have loose images in my mind from the Firefighter 1 courses, and images I intend to create for the Art of Fire book expansion.  But that is not the next book our publisher wants to produce; and my extra time is going into a lot of sorting and preparation for our move, spring cleaning, and hopefully also training for wildfire season.

So this spring's 40 days have turned out to be more of a photo journal, watching winter recede from this fire-prone landscape, and tracking our own wanderings as we look for our next place to live.
This fire-related calling of mine is, unfortunately, not very specific about logistical details like where to house Ernie while I work all over the place.

I did deliver 40 images, but I don't feel finished.
So today, Easter, I'm resolved to work on a few more hand-drawn sketches and paintings, to see if I can capture some of the moments that have been resting in my head rather than on camera.

So far, this has turned into yet more sorting, as once again I search for the art materials I have been trying to locate for the last 6 weeks.  (I have the dark and mid-tone paper, want to draw on it with chalk pastels, and the box I bought last year is not obliging me by showing itself).

Finally tried it with fluorescent paper.
It is a very rough draft, but it is probably the best we are going to get for tonight.

The Scary Corner

P.S. May 5 - or technically May 6 as it's after midnight:
Burn 101 - Recruit Academy 19-04 learns Fire Science
This is the chalk drawing that I finally accomplished, after giving up and buying a new set of chalk pastels.

Monday, April 8, 2019

40 Days of Fire and Ice - Week 5

I spent most of this week driving down to Oregon to reclaim Ernie from his fishing adventures with his dad.  This planting pot was about the only thing I managed to pack up and bring down.

Academy has shifted over to HazMat mode.  We're getting ready for graduation, and in the process, I've been reflecting on some of the experiences.  The camera doesn't capture every embarrassing moment or close call; which is probably a good thing.  Doesn't stop me from creatively alluding to the alleged incidents after the fact, though.

I brought Radar to several of the classes, because of Ernie being out of town.  He behaved pretty well - arguably better than some of the human students.

I don't know how IFSTA managed to make the HazMat curriculum boring.  Our teachers have a lot of experience, and try to put things in perspective with examples from real life (including the near-obligatory explosion videos).  But the course as currently written demands so much memorization of detail, without context or focus, that it's nearly impossible to "teach to the test" yet deliver comprehensible, practical, safe, and effective basic skills. 

Hazardous materials (HazMat) lurk all around us, with the potential to inflict tremendous damages in an unfortunate moment's inattention.

Maybe it's like traffic; the only way we cope with the daily level of risk is by getting habituated, and then tuning out as much as we are able.

These images are from last week's trip to Olympia, and returning via the Tacoma area; then this week on the Oregon trip.

Some of these multi-placard trucks are probably carrying hazardous waste for disposal.  Hopefully to proper disposal sites, with safe and appropriate disposal methods. 

Learning about all this stuff makes me really want to reduce my dependence on hazardous materials, for myself and for others. 
Thank you to all our readers who boycott or minimize our use of pesticides, toxic cleaning products, paints, batteries, and chemicals generally.  If you do need these materials for your home or work, hopefully you use appropriate storage and disposal.
If you are not sure how to dispose of materials you no longer want on your property for health or flammability reasons, here are some resources for disposal:

If you are looking for good alternatives to avoid purchasing more of this stuff in the first place, such as "edible" (food-grade) cleaning solutions, there are some handy books out there like this Cleaners You Can Eat eBook (https://permies.com/t/edible-clean)
as well as friendly discussion on forums such as this one:

In the interests of boosting our moving fund, I should mention that the "Cleaners You Can Eat" booklet is part of the stretch goals for this Kickstarter:
and we get a kickback if you use our link.

We've also contributed a new set of digital rocket mass heater plans for one of their stretch goals.  A lot of the stuff described in Better World are projects we've helped create, or helped destruction-test, or both.  If you like Kickstarters, go check it out.

Homestead 8" RMH Plans

Sunday, March 31, 2019

40 Days of Fire and Ice - Week 4

 On the weekend drives to Wenatchee, we see the snow receding from the hills.  This week's rain produced some spectacular rainbows.  (Photo taken by my passenger David P.)

We have also noticed, in the receding snow, that rodents did a tremendous amount of damage to the orchard trees over the winter.  We collected dormant twigs, "scion wood," from each damaged tree, in hopes of bridge grafting later in the spring.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

40 Days of Fire and Ice - Week 3

Not a lot of things are on fire or frozen this week (yay!), so we have some pictures from the archives.

not a great place or time of year to be handicapped...
thankfully, this is mostly melted away now.

Snowy day in the hills (January 2019)
I love these black-and-white "branchscapes."
Could make a killer jigsaw puzzle.


frosty day in the clouds (early winter 2018)

"Lampwork" artist in Coos Bay, OR last winter.

Hour 20 of a 28-hour shift,
day 15 of our strike team "week."
Our task force leader stomping out a sagebrush fire.

View from flat-tire adventure,
scouting firewood sources.  Fall 2018

View of current smoke over old burn,
on way to Kettle Falls for Boyd's Fire (Aug 2018).

Asparagus sprouting from recent burn,
Boyd's Fire (2018)

Burned-over valley (2018)

Tree and burned stump holes,
Cougar Creek Fire (2018)

Lingering hot spots on inaccessible ridges,
Cougar Creek fire (2018)

Moose seen on way to Boyd's Fire, 2018

Working fire ahead.  2018

Patchy (uneven) burned forest, Boyd's Fire (2018)

Finally, a challenge: Can you guess what this is? 

(Yes, we encountered it on a fire assignment.
It's a close-up of something.
Good luck.)

Email me if you have a guess: erica@ErnieAndErica.info.

40 Days of Fire and Ice - Week 2

The badges came.  These are the same graphic as we used for the truck decals, now in a nifty 2" woven/embroidered format.

The snow is going.  Here are a few more of the pictures from last week's marvelously misty weather.

Now the snow is receding - all the south slopes are tawny bare again, with tiny green fuzz starting to show.

Academy continues to go well.  All 16 of our classmates passed their practical exams Sunday, for the basic fire fighter skills.  We won't know for sure on the written exams until they process the Scantrons in a week or two, but it's looking like Mt. Hull has 3 new structure-qualified fire fighters.  We have 4 more weeks to complete the HazMat Awareness and HazMat Operations parts of the course, then graduation is scheduled for the evening of April 14.

Okanogan County recruit academy folks
bunk at Malaga Station Friday and Saturday nights. 
Gary keeps bringing steak, so the rest of us try for worthy side dishes.
This week's pot-luck was truly magnificent.

Assistant instructor and heat haze
seen through window of burn building.

Instructor Don Welch in front of
the Malaga hills
Car fire prop

Car fire prop - fun, if not super realistic.

The snow remains on some of the north slopes and shaded creek beds, but also on some of the tops of the slopes - an interesting "snow cap" that outlines the whole shape of each hill along the Columbia/Okanogan confluence.

Not sure what allows this snowcap to remain on the top of the south-facing slopes - air currents? radiant frost? just the slight change in angle that means the flattish ridgetops are not facing the sun as directly as the steep slopes?  As you can see, the snow comes down along the ridgetop well below the elevation of bare slopes above, so it's not just an elevation/snow-line thing.
Photos taken by David while I'm driving us home.

We still have plenty of slush and snow on the roads up here above 3000 feet, but it's starting to melt and drain during warm days.

Friday, March 8, 2019

40 Days of Fire and Ice - Week 1

Well, it's officially Lent. 

This year as I once again resolve to set aside a few time-waster bad habits, I'd like to make a practice of sharing art each week instead. 

For the next 40 days, I undertake to offer 40 pieces of art: photos, drawings, paintings, fire service insignia, writing, and all manner of love notes to reflect on our snowy and fire-prone Okanogan Highlands, and the fire service teams we will serve with this summer and in future.

For those who haven't heard, the Wisner homestead was sold last fall, and we are preparing to move from our home of 7 years. 

Distance to medical facilities, and the local VA clinic closing, were big factors in the decision.  Both Ernie and the senior Wisners have medical conditions that are slowly worsening, and require regular and sometimes specialized care.
  The economics of being here doesn't pencil out very well either - a lot of our work is elsewhere, and the long distances and sometimes extreme weather conditions mean higher costs when we travel for work, medical, or family visits.  When you add in the hauling requirements to get a 30-foot fishing boat over the Cascades every time our salty sailors want to chase the salmon, cod, or tuna ... Captain Ron decided it's time to be closer to the ocean again.  So Ernie's dad and stepmom have sold the land, found themselves a house in Coquille OR, and Ernie and I are looking for options in that general area.

It is difficult to leave this place, after getting attached to it all.  My sit-spot by our pond, my fire hall crewmates, the gorgeous landscapes.
And there are the dark corners to clean out: unfinished projects and accumulated clutter to sort through. Thinking we would be here a long time, we have allowed ourselves to accumulate half-finished barns full of drifts of tools, materials, and hand-me-down posessions that we will need to deal with.

It is also difficult to see where exactly our next move will take us, from here.  I want to continue in fire service work; I want Ernie in a safe place where he can continue to be as involved as his health permits; ideally, in a nearly-ADA home within redneck-wheelchair (ATV) range of essential services and family/trusted companionship.  With room for a 60-lb dog who can jump a 6-foot fence if he feels he's on the wrong side of it. 
Selling the property provided just enough to get Ron and Jeanine situated in Coquille, but did not leave any extra for Ernie and me to make our own down payment on a new place.  So we're starting over again, hoping the money for the move (and a new residence in a higher-value area) will show up as it's needed, mostly from what work we can do or surplus things we can sell along the way.

Once we get our feet on the ground, I do have summer wildfire work lined up, and ongoing plans to keep working toward higher qualifications and pay rates as a fire fighter.  My wildland contract crew of the past 2 summers has trucks in Oregon, and are delighted to have me available down there for this season.  The boss has signed me up for higher-level classes this spring, that could lead to a pay raise and/or instructor qualifications within the next couple of seasons.
So the daunting thing about the transition is not the lack of a future path; more the speed it needs to happen, the amount of clutter (including Ernie's mom's stuff) that needs to be sorted and cleared; and the risks of overspending and overcommitting on a rental or mortgage in order to find a place that feels right for us.

I'm seeking inspiration and moral support for the move by celebrating the things we love about our work, and the place(s) we live and will live. Please enjoy these photos, artwork, and other creative reflections on this phase in our lives. 

And if you feel moved to help, or called to share an option with us, thank you.  We appreciate your solidarity.

What is Lent:
In the Catholic / Western churches, this is a time for fasting, reflection, giving up unhealthy or unneeded luxuries, and instead sharing surplus in solidarity with the poor.  Religious themes include Jesus' fasting for 40 days in the desert, and the wild ride of hopes, fears, betrayal, and bewildered expectations that leads up to the Last Supper, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.  (Celebrated at Easter.)

These last months of winter, many other traditions also reflect on themes of hunger, solidarity, survival, and the longing for spring's renewal, cleansing, rebirth.  I remember seeing a Native American calendar at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood, that described February/March as "The Hungry Month." 
You might think that the darkest part of winter in December or January would be the hungry times - yet we often coast through the winter solstice with merriment, harvest and holiday feasting.  New Year's comes with hopes and grand plans for how well our snowblower will work, how we'll exercise more while still getting everything else done, and how quickly we'll get our tax paperwork done in January.

February is when we start asking each other, "This might be the last snow, do you think?" 
March is when we start to think about selling the blamed machinery before something else breaks... until another 6 inches of snow makes us double down and keep it working.

When I sat down to pray recently, feeling particularly sad at leaving my crew, and so many high hopes, plans, and unfinished projects, this reading came up:
John 13:1-14, the one that starts:
"It was just before the Passover festival.  Jesus knew that the hour had come to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end."
The story continues, describing how the Lord took a towel and washed his disciples' feet - while making it clear to them the role reversal from master to servant was a deliberate example for them to follow. Love and serve one another, as I have loved you.

Took some time yesterday
to apply the decal
onto another fire truck. 
Technically counts as art
because I helped design the logo. 
Definitely counts as supporting and serving
alongside my fire chief and crew.
That's a pretty basic message, coming from a pretty extreme situation.  Comforting, direct.

So as we pack, I will be reminding myself that moving is not the hardest sacrifice, not by a long shot.  But it is a transition; and an opportunity to find ways to finish our time here in a way that honors all we've loved about being here, and supports those we care about as we go.

Flag and shirt design
for this winter's Wenatchee fire academy

"Ladders on Ice"
was an alternative proposal for our motto.