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Goddard: The Woodpile

Like lots of friends and neighbors, I’ve spent a fair amount of time the last few weeks moving and stacking firewood. It’s an important part of the season for many Vermonters. Some folks are scrambling to put in wood for the approaching winter. Others are working on next year’s woodpile. I’m doing both.

There’s something satisfying about a full, neatly stacked woodpile. Maybe there’s a primitive current within us that still draws a connection between a crackling fire and survival. Something deep and mysterious, like the code within our dog’s DNA that made it howl uncontrollably the other night while we were trying to enjoy the lunar eclipse.

Wood also seems part of our self-identity here in Vermont, our way of life, like our unpaved roads and harvest suppers. And we’ve always had a thriving underground economy of which firewood is an important part. Many families earn extra money by plowing in winter, cutting and selling wood in summer and fall, and making sugar in the spring.

Nearly half of Vermont families will burn at least some wood to help heat their homes this winter; more than one family in ten will rely on wood as its primary heating source.

And there’s a growing recognition that our wood-heat legacy has a darker side that has to be addressed. Many of us heat with older stoves that are inefficient and create significant air pollution. Indeed, Vermont is a leader in wood-heat related pollution, contributing to global climate change. So there may be a chicken and egg connection between last winter’s bone-chilling cold and the fact that many of us burned more wood than ever before. A lot of people are responding by switching to cleaner, more efficient stoves and wood pellet systems.

It’s good to find ways to be cleaner and still use wood to help heat our homes. There’s a certain romance to wood heat - an element of independence and self-reliance, a continuity with the seasons of our own past. Also, people who heat with wood say that what they like most about it is they can be as warm as they want all winter long.

All of which is why we’re so attentive to our woodpiles. I’m confident I’ll get our wood done before the snow flies, but the job seems to be taking a little longer these days. In fact, if I were getting paid by the hour I think my boss would probably tell me to speed it up a bit.

Kevin Goddard lives and works in the Lamoille County community of Morristown.
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