We are enjoying a white Christmas, as yesterday’s rain turned into snow late in the evening and has been blowing around every since. Well, “enjoying” may be a bit of an exaggeration, as we woke to 12 degrees outside and 59 in the bedroom. It was definitely a morning to snuggle under the down comforter and stay in be a while longer.
Our plans for Christmas dinner with some of our new neighbors are postponed over concerns that some of the neighbors at the bottom of the mountain will not be able to make it up and down. The Christmas gathering has been rescheduled for Saturday, but it would not surprise me if it gets pushed back to Sunday.
We celebrated Christmas early when my daughter was visiting, and now we are celebrating late with neighbors. Today, I expect we will continue to eat leftovers and perhaps spend some quality time together in front of the crackling fire.
However and with whomever you are celebrating, we wish you the best of holidays and encourage you to take a respite from the year that was 2020 and enjoy the day. Turn off the news, log out of twitter and Facebook. Spend time with the people who are present.
I must put in a few good words for having nice, welcoming neighbors, which was an unexpected bonus of our move. We’ve met three of the folks who live along the road, the daughter of another, and the caregiver for an old man who’s lived here since day one and is considered a national treasure by most of his neighbors. Not single one has been standoffish.
Apparently many are glad to have someone occupying a house that had been vacant for several years. “It’s good to have someone else living up on the mountain,” said one young man three houses down from us. “Let me know if you need anything,” I told him. “Likewise,” he replied. “Don’t be a stranger.”
The Storm and the Fire
With this snowfall, we have already passed both the number of snows and the number of inches of snow this area saw last year. We expect more snow in the coming months. It will be a good test to see if we are mentally prepared to live in the isolation imposed by our mountainside location.
Our prowess at heating with wood continues to grow. For two nights in a row we have been able to start fires in the morning just by tossing new logs on the coals with no kindling required. Part of this is because my wife and I have opposite sleep schedules. I stay up late and load up the firebox. She wakes up early and can add fresh wood. But even on those days when she doesn’t wake up until 7:30, we’re keeping the house in the 70s. This is really spoiling me, and I’ve had to take off the sweatshirts and fleeces that have been my traditional winter wear.
I have taken a very strategic approach to loading the firebox of our Fisher stove. Each day, I set aside the largest, gnarliest logs I come across and at night I load one or two before I go to bed. I don’t really know if knotty wood burns any longer, but I like to think it does. The difficulty of splitting it certainly results in larger, awkwardly shaped pieces of wood that are perfect for an overnight burn.
Kicking Some Ash
I’ve read that the Fisher stoves burn best with at least an inch of ash on the bottom. In fact, long time owners only clean them out when the ash piles up high enough to limit the capacity of the firebox. This is in contrast to our stove insert, which I find needs to be cleaned out more frequently or the ash will block the air intake and the fire will suffer.
Of course, the big question is, what do you do with all the ash? I’ve read that a cord of wood will result in 20 pounds of ash, so we’re looking at 100 pounds of ash per year, If not more. Adding some of it to the compost pile is an option. Spreading it over the yard is another, but you have to be careful because it will raise the pH of your soil. We’ve settled on throwing it on a place where we don’t want anything to grow .
What we really need is someone who wants the ash to make lye to make soap or to use turn corn into hominy. We have a friend who makes homemade soap, and we offered her our ash, but she declined. Apparently she uses factory-produce lye and bottled oils so that her soap comes out perfect every time. Too bad. Seem like making your own lye and using animal fats would be more authentic. We have another friend who made her own hominy once with her daughter for a school project. It was so much work that she swore “never again!” Still, it’s a good survival skill to have.
A Couple of Notes
We talked earlier this week about new strains of the coronavirus in the UK. Now new strains are being identified in Nigeria and South Africa. The danger here is that the disease is evolving and at may one day evolve to the point that a new vaccine is needed, much like the flu shot is updated annually.
Finally, if you have any suggestions on dealing with the ash or wish to share how you handle it, please leave a comment below.