by Doug Kutilek
While reflecting deeply on the recent coldness of the weather outside, the stinging sharpness of the winter winds, and the constant chorus of media voices singing the praises of alternative energy sources, I had a near-epiphanic experience in which I saw with almost perfect clarity the solution to this continuing “crisis,” especially as it applied to my own circumstances.
Though having no training as an engineer or chemist, I quickly devised a means for producing an intense and self-sustaining exothermic reaction in an enclosed metal vessel, through the rapid but controlled oxidation of various naturally-occurring, abundant, and fully renewable hydrocarbons, thereby producing heat in sufficient quantities to quickly make our middleclass American home comfortable in the midst of winter’s chill. And the beauty of the whole thing is that this process of energy extraction is not owned or controlled by any government, foreign or domestic, or any corporation, is not patentable, but is free to all, and at potentially no cash expenditure whatsoever!
But wait, there’s more!
The waste by-products (if we dare speak of them as “waste”) of this most remarkable of cutting-edge energyextraction processes are three — 1. water vapor, which is returned in gaseous form into the earth’s massive hydrologic cycle; 2. a moderate quantity of a solid mineral residue that is rich in trace elements, and is suitable as a stimulant to plant growth when applied to the soil, but which can be effectively employed in some circumstances for its insecticidal properties (non-toxic to man or pets, and not harmful to the environment), and can even be utilized in the manufacturing of certain kinds of personal hygiene products; and 3. carbon dioxide — the very stuff we exhale as we respire, and which constitutes an absolutely essential component for all plant growth on earth, whether grass in lawns, flowers in beds, vegetables in gardens, trees in forests, crops on farms, or seaweed in the oceans; all are utterly dependent on a ready and abundant supply of carbon dioxide, as much dependent — indeed, even more dependent — as they are on the presence of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, sulfur, calcium, and dozens of other elements to survive and grow. Without this carbon dioxide, it would be the end of life on earth as we know it.
Add to all this the highly touted benefits of a closely, but necessarily, connected companion in-home exercise program — requiring no membership fees, and no special outfit, shoes, or equipment (okay, maybe a little bit of special equipment) — that may take inches from your waist and add years to your life span, as the infomercials say.
“Surely,” you exclaim, “you are making all this up. Nothing could achieve all of these direct and indirect benefits, with no detrimental consequences. This is simply too good to be true.” But I solemnly affirm that every word is true.
In short, in my near epiphanic experience, I decided to kindle a wood fire in our Buck stove.
The wood, mixed hardwoods with just a touch of conifer, had been previously cut to length by my own two hands (employing suitable handsaws — rarely a powered one), split to the proper diameter (as needed) by those same two hands and arms, neatly stacked, naturally air-dried to perfection with no additional effort, toted to the wood rack on the back patio in a wheelbarrow, carried into the house a boxful at a time, and fed into the firebox as needed to continue the all-important exothermic reaction (“stoking the fire” is, I believe, the technical term). The wood, the thinnings and prunings from my own modest stand of trees, supplemented with waste wood gleaned from a variety of sources through the year, cost me nothing but time and energy, and enabled me to productively engage in that much-commended aerobic exercise, performed amidst fresh air and sunshine (rather than in some dank and malodorous exercise facility), to say nothing of the side-benefit of time alone for thought and reflection.
The water vapor and carbon dioxide — heated far beyond the ambient external air temperature — naturally rise up and out through the flue, leaving behind a growing quantity of wood ashes, an excellent soil fertilizer, reportedly also an effective deterrent of peach-borers and ants, and in a pinch useable as a source (via leaching) for caustic lye, a necessity in the manufacture of lye soap.
Through natural regeneration of existing trees, supplemented by my own planting of hundreds of others, this wisely- and properly-maintained “wood yard,” in the capable hands of a well-informed and far-seeing woodsman — that would be me, thank you — can and will yield a never-ending supply of complex hydrocarbons — firewood — to exercise the body, warm the house, and with its by-products, promote healthy plant growth.
So, to resolve my own energy crisis — just a bit of a chill in my study — I initiated the controlled oxidation of natively-grown and harvested hydrocarbons, and was soon basking in the warmth, with a smile of serene satisfaction on my face that I can stay cozy warm endlessly, without monetary expenditure or dependence on reportedly scarce outside energy sources under the control of others.
I have built me a fire.