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My Year of Buying Nothing

That time I discovered true abundance

By Lee Simpson

Hurricane Arthur roared through my home in Lunenburg, N.S. early this summer with an enormous appetite for frail and failing trees. Our property is large enough that the six it brought down and the three-dozen it revealed as weak hardly made a rent in the shade canopy. That’s how we previously referred to the wildly overgrown mess of unkempt greenery — those we ignored for a decade. But we have now tamed that mysterious wilderness and started to know our trees. In the future, it may be a managed woodlot.

It is our goal to heat our wisely architectured-to-purpose home by solely using wood fuel, leaving only a small amount of fossil fuel (oil) in the tank to keep the water heater going. There are vast quantities of debate in books and online that pose the question of whether it is less ecologically harmful to burn oil compared to wood. For rural folks with no near neighbours, a clean chimney and up-to-code wood stove, the jury comes down firmly on the side of burning properly aged chunks of hardwood.

Green wood — that's a recently cut tree — does not burn cleanly. Still, we already had a sufficient quantity of dry hardwood for this year’s supply: we have taken the fallen as free contributions to future woodsheds. A crew of local young people — those who have not departed for Alberta — felled 43 of those trees on our acreage over three weekends. They all have full-time work, but salaries for those who remain on the coast are not luxurious and most have to work two jobs. Their earnings included the trees we could not use — enough, we figured, to fuel six or seven other households. And they left us three trees of various thicknesses to split and stack. My husband, who is a self-taught splitter, has become adept at judging how much of the ‘crop’ to chop skinny for quick-start kindling. He knows the amount to leave intact for long, slow nighttime burns, and the amount to cut for day-time, medium-burning chunks.

And I am the stacker. Today, woodpile stacking is an art in these parts. At first, I was intent simply on “getting ‘er done” as they say. Just settling the logs into a stable position that stopped toppling onto my feet was the first lesson. (“Oh, so this is why country people do not sport sexy sandals in their sunny gardens in August!”) But, as the hours of rhythmic log placement wore on, I ceased to be aimless, gradually coming to understand both the practicality and artistry of woodshed stacking. Of course, my efforts to create some kind of symmetry are pathetic compared to the pure poetry of my neighbour, Nellie, who in her mid-70s still axe-splits her own annual wood fuel.

In my learning, I discovered a new definition of plenitude. Abundance is enough money in the bank to fend off debt, enough canned goods put by to prevent hunger in a blizzard and enough wood to keep you warm all winter. Abundance is having just enough.

Author's photo
Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.
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