Opinion: How many ways does wood heat warm?


Published: 05-24-2024 2:22 PM

Jean Stimmell, retired stone mason and psychotherapist, lives in Northwood and blogs at jeanstimmell.blogspot.com.

This essay is a continuation of last week’s piece questioning the value of new technology like Apple’s latest iPad. Yes, this cutting-edge technology makes life easier, but is it good for your body and soul? Depending on your sensibilities, you may find the following words either romantic or asinine.

Sacasas, in his substack, “The Convivial Society,”⁠ introduced me to the philosopher Albert Borgmann, whom I consider a kindred soul. Back in 1987, he wrote “that technology has served us well by conquering hunger and disease, but when we turn to it for richer experiences, it leads instead to a life dominated by effortless and thoughtless consumption.” To make his case against such an easy but colorless life, he points out the advantages of heating with a wood stove, something near and dear to my heart.

His aspirations coincide with the quest we were on as part of the sixties generation — spurning the blandness of the easy life, we yearned after the richness of the good life. We found our mentors in folks like Scott and Helen Nearing who abandoned the city for a rural life with minimal cash, searching for self-reliance, good health, and community. They wrote our bible: “Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, the wood stove loomed large in the lives of all of us engaged in this back-to-the-land movement, whether we already lived in New Hampshire or migrated here from elsewhere. While we had no money, we had plenty of energy and enthusiasm.

We loved our wood heat. Not only does your body rejoice from soaking in the seductive rays radiating out from the stove, but these kinetic beams of energy foster a mellow feeling of community among all the folks gathered near.

This type of energy was not a one-and-done thing. It took time and community to create. As Borgmann has commented, wood heat “was not instantaneous because in the morning a fire first had to be built in the stove or fireplace. And before it could be built, trees had to be felled, logs had to be sawed and split, the wood had to be hauled and stacked.”

That encapsulates the old Yankee saying, “Wood heats you up three times; when you drop the trees, when you cut it up, and when you burn it.”

I know it is a stretch, but contrasting the experience of wood heat with modern central heating is, for me, similar to that infamous Apple ad crushing all the former instruments of creativity in favor of the new iPad Pro.

Let me explain by again quoting Borgmann who stresses not only the physical involvement that wood heat requires but the social aspect.

“It was a focus, a hearth, a place that gathered the work and leisure of a family and gave the house its center. It provided for the entire family a regular and bodily engagement with the rhythm of the seasons that was woven together of the threat of cold and the solace of warmth, the smell of wood smoke, the exertion of sawing and of carrying, the teaching of skills, and the fidelity to daily tasks.”

The newest Apple iPad may be the thinnest yet, but it can’t make you purr like a kitten like wood heat can.