Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The last firewood

Spring has arrived in the mountains at last

The weekend was cold and blustery, but the past couple of days the temperature has risen into the 60s, the sky has been mostly clear, and winds have been light. As if to emphasize that spring is finally here, a hummingbird just whizzed by my window. We used to have a friend in Santa Fe who kept a garden diary; she reported that in her yard, the hummers always arrive on April 14. It takes them a little longer to get up here, but now they have arrived, and spring is officially in progress.

The timing was perfect; we have just used up the last of our firewood. We've discovered that the fireplace makes a nice supplement to the propane-fired furnace for keeping the house warm in winter. It's a high-efficiency fireplace that draws air for combustion from outside the house, so we aren't losing heated air up the chimney. Except in the very coldest part of the winter, we can often do without the furnace altogether – as we did about a month ago when we ran out of propane.

A few years ago, Consumer Reports tested high-efficiency fireplaces and wood stoves and came to the conclusion that heating a home with such a fireplace would cost just about the same as running a gas-fired furnace. CR made some assumptions, however, that relate more to running a fireplace in their neighborhood in Connecticut than in the mountains of northern New Mexico. For example, CR's comparison involved natural gas piped into the home; propane, delivered in a truck, costs about twice as much per therm as natural gas.

And then there's the firewood. CR used oak, purchased for about $800 a cord. In our fireplace, we use mostly pine, which produces about a quarter less heat than the same volume of oak, but we pay only about $100 to $150 a cord. We buy it in the spring, when the lumberyards are switching from their winter business (firewood) to their summer business (lumber) and they need to make room for inventory. A couple of years ago, we got a really good deal on some piñon – it's a slow-growing tree, like oak, and so its wood is denser. The area around Santa Fe had an infestation of beetles that killed many trees, and the Forest Service wanted to get the dead trees removed as far as possible. We did have to put the wood under a tarp in the sun to bake the beetles to death, but we had all summer to do so.

And sometimes, the wood is free. For example, when we cleared space on the lot for Five O'Clock Somewhere, we tried to situate the home so as to preserve as many trees as we could, but we did still have to cut down a few. And there were some dead trees that could have blown down and caused damage in a windstorm, so those had to be removed.

Finances are, unfortunately, tight this spring, so we may not be able to cash in on the spring firewood sales. But still, using the fireplace makes sense to heat this place. And noting beats the warm cozy glow.

Labels: , , ,


Blogger Lydia Manx said...

When I lived in Nevada my cousin got me to go with him to cut forest wood that the park service had marked for removal. Chainsaws and trucks it was hard work. Cedar and Oak wood for $25 fee to enter. It was wonderful and when I moved I left the next folks with a good year supply.

Wed Apr 29, 02:40:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

In northern Rio Arriba County, many families are operating just above subsistence level, with crops and livestock from their family farms, and one of the traditional sources of income is cutting firewood.

After a long series of court cases (and a shootout at the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla), it was determined that the families that had originally had land as part of the Tierra Amarilla Land Grant should still have rights to some of their traditional uses of the land. That included cutting firewood.

So now, many of the families in the county go into the forest in the early summer to cut firewood, which they cure over the summer and then take to Los Alamos or Santa Fe in the fall to sell.

It's a lot of hard work, and even when they sell the wood to relatively well-off gringos, they aren't getting a lot of money for all of that work.

Still, I've been told by people who come from these families, it's not just about the money. It's about the tradition and the connection to the land.

Thu Apr 30, 12:30:00 AM MDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home