by Kent Ballard
Don’t ask me anything about global warming. I don’t understand the science behind that idea. It’s logical that nine zillion cars and power plants could have an effect on the earth’s temperature, like most scientists say. What I don’t get is equally credited climatologists pointing out that one good volcanic eruption, like, say, Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines in ’91 can, in four days, put out an equivalent amount of every nasty gas into the atmosphere that humans have for six hundred years. Is this our fault or not? If it is, we need to change our habits. If it’s not, we can do nothing about it.
Me, I don’t know. We’re gonna get what we’re gonna get.
They say the earth is slowly getting warmer. The fine print at the bottom of some of these articles also states we’ve been getting warmer for three hundred years, ever since the end of “the little ice age” around the time of the Renaissance. That was before the Industrial Revolution and the age of coal power. Me, I don’t know. I can’t remember back that far.
But I do know that last winter was supremely nasty here in the Midwest, as well as other parts of the world, and this winter hasn’t been any better. Last night we were to get three more inches of snow. We got seven. Poor Boston has been buried by snow since Miley Cyrus went nuts. The last time I checked Zach’s town was getting an unwanted renovation by the glaciers crushing it. People are waging guerrilla war against their neighbors for stealing shoveled-out parking places. The city fathers are worrying where to pile all that snow they do manage to scrape up off the streets. I’d suggest driving it out and dumping it on the Atlantic Ocean, since it’s frozen too, but they never listen to me. Or maybe they’re scared of forming real glaciers that would then move inland. The rest of the country has had a good laugh at the mayor of Boston pleading with citizens not to leap off three and four story buildings into snow piles. That sounds perfectly sane to me when your doors and windows are buried up to the second floor. How else are they supposed to get around? At least they’re not as crazy as New York, which declared a blizzard was coming (it didn’t) and ordered all citizens to stay off the subways—and still left them all running, empty–throughout the “snow emergency.” Great city management there, de Blasio. The Algonquian Indians had their act together better than that.
I left the city life in 1998 and moved as far into the hinterlands as possible. It’s great out here. But winter brings a different set of problems. One of the best pickup trucks I ever owned was a two-wheel drive Ford F-150. Good styling, great interior and options, 5.0 liter high-performance engine that would pass anything except for a gas station. It helped me move here. The next winter it was gone, replaced by a 4×4 pickup. The winter after that, our Chevy was replaced by a Jeep. Places to put accumulated snow are not a problem for a county that never runs plows save for the state highways, and I’m miles from any of them.
We’re too far out for luxuries like city water and gas. We burn propane from a 500 gallon tank for our gas heater and pump our own water from a 184 foot deep well. My electricity literally comes through the forest, not down the road and along our driveway. This is all fine and good until storms or icy, sagging tree branches snap the power line. No electricity, no power to the water pump. No power to the electronic ignition for the gas furnace, or power to run the blower. It can become pretty quaint here in the wink of an eye.
Many of my friends have told me flatly they would not live where I live because the nearest burg that passes for a town (a dozen or so miles away) does not deliver Chinese or pizza out this far. I point out that even if they did, the tip would cost far more than the food. And a pox on anyone who would order food delivery in this weather anyway. The poor college kids or men and women working two and three jobs to make ends meet shouldn’t have to risk their necks to save you a trip to a restaurant that’s only four blocks away. Shame on the people who do that.
So what do we do when the 21st Century vanishes at the speed of light? We side-step and go back to the 19th. Sitting next to my gas furnace is a whole-house wood burning furnace. There’s also a wood stove in the basement and a fireplace in the living room. We’ve got deep cycle batteries—always charged—and DC to AC inverters. Those run the computers and a few lights. I’m putting in solar chargers this summer. We’ve a lovely collection of kerosene lamps. That giant wood furnace runs hot enough that we need to open the windows if I stuff too much wood into it, and my Coleman camp stove has cooked many a meal while sitting on the electric range. We store a ridiculous amount of water in the basement in rinsed-out two liter pop bottles, all treated and sealed and far from any sunlight. In short, it’s pretty much business as usual, except when I pour a mug of water and place it in the microwave to make a cup of tea. I won’t admit the number of times I’ve done that over the years.
Same weather, but different places and different problems. As I look outside today, I swear it’s absolutely beautiful. A professional photographer would have a field day here. I live in a picture postcard. But I also know my wood is running low, and sooner or later I’ll have to don more outerwear than a space station astronaut, grab the chain saw, fire up that 4×4 truck, and go cut more firewood. Yup, we’re out of propane. We called over a week ago, but this winter has the drivers for the Podunk Gas Company running their tails off. We didn’t call in time. But fret not. It’s 74 degrees inside, thanks to cast iron, expensive chain saws, and the fact that I live in the middle of hundreds of thousands of tons of fuel. All I have to do is go get it. And hey, we’ve still got electricity…at least for now. Piece of cake.
Animals get weird after a long, deep snow. It’s a little-known fact in modern times, but during the westward migration more than one wagon train was snowed in and starved to death. When rescuers finally hiked in with provisions, they found that long after the humans had frozen to death the horses and dogs were still alive. It’s damned near impossible to freeze either one, unless it’s a chihuahua or a poodle. And both of them would be eaten by the coyotes around here anyway. I pick my dogs for cold-weather hardiness and size and I have four of them. Why so many? The coyotes would eat one. Maybe two. But they won’t attack four. I’ve found coyote stool in my yard and driveway. It’s interesting in the summer to sit out at night and listen to them howl, but when food disappears they take on a much darker character. The deer have been browsing the bark off small trees. Squirrels and raccoons have been making do as best they can, including stealing dog food off the porch when the dogs are out somewhere in the forest with me.
I took this job as guest columnist six months ago this week. Then, it was fall and we were all still relaxing in more balmy temperatures. Zach had recently had shoulder surgery and I offered to stand in every other week to help his wing heal. We talked about it becoming permanent, or at least as permanent as anything else on the Internet, but I’m really not much of a columnist so this will be my last entry. When we started, Zach suggested “around 1000 words” for a column. I think the shortest I ever turned in was 1200 or so, the longest over 3000. It takes me nearly 400 words just to say “hello” sometimes. Not all that professional, folks.
But it’s had it’s bright spots too. Four different times now I’ve talked to publishers over the phone who informed me they were adding extra pages to their magazines to print my articles in their entirety, not one word edited out. That’s simply unheard of. Publishers don’t do that. ‘Cept they did, four times for me. I guess it takes me a few words to get warmed up. Or get around to the point, depending on your view. I admit it. I’m long-winded.
But I hope you got a little information or maybe a smile or two from all the hair-pulling I’ve done here not to write major feature articles in a small blog column. If Zach ever gets stuck on the MTA or breaks his hand jumping out a three story window onto a two story building, I might drop in again someday. But for now, it’s back to my excessive verbiage in longer feature articles. Zach’s healed up well enough to take over fully now, and I thank him for this opportunity and thank you for putting up with me.
And now…I gotta go cut more firewood.