In May of 2011, Sister Jann McClary and her husband Tariq moved from the Washington DC metropolitan area to establish a new home in the mountains of Colorado, building it from the ground up as part of their plan to become free of the spiritual and physical stress of modern urban life. Sister Jann is documenting her experiences for the Muslim Link. See her earlier installments at www.muslimlinkpaper.com by searching for "Running for the Hills". Make sure you select "Exact Phrase" in the search options. – TML
Chainsawing wood to size. (Photo by author.)
It's winter in Colorado. Under a stunningly turquoise sky made brilliant by the single digit temperatures of early morning, the ponderosa pines bristle in spiky cloaks of last night's flurries and freezing drizzle, giving them the appearance of having been sprayed with liquid crystal. The six inches of snow has yet to be disturbed by the tracks of local critters. They know it's too cold to yet venture out. I hunker down too, snuggling deeper under heavy blankets as my husband coaxes the fire up in the woodstove. It's 7∞ F below zero outside. We're at a cozy 68∞F in here. Alhamdulillah. Allah says it is ìHe Who produces for you fire out of the green tree, when behold you kindle therewith.î(Surat-ul Ya Seen, ayat 80).
We could do like many of our neighbors and install a 500-pound liquid propane tank outside of our place, run a line underground to the house, and have instant gas for heating and cooking, but then we'd have a monthly bill and it wouldn't be much different than coughing up half a paycheck to BGE. We're all for green energy, so we employ a different type of power to heat things up: muscles and wood.
A manual log splitter breaks them down is better than a gym membership.
Now, before you go thinking I've gone all primitive, let's look at the facts: Group A: 1) there is no power station in our immediate vicinity; 2) if there was a power station it would be run on some non-renewable source like coal; 3) if it wasn't a renewable energy it would be dubious, like nuclear, or downright toxic like fracking. And from Group B: 4) the original settlers and homesteaders functioned quite well without gas and electricity; 5) they used what was readily available; 6) we live in the woods! Hence, a ready-made and renewable heat source. Well, it's not totally ready, we do have to engage in some processing.
The wood pile grows.
Firewood is basically of two styles: green and wet, or dead and dry. Unless you plan to contact your neighbor with smoke signals, dead and dry is what will keep you warm and comfy through the winter. Where we are in Colorado our selection is mainly evergreens: pion pine, the source of yummy pine nuts; statuesque ponderosa pine; juniper, with its medicinal berries; cedar, aromatic and vengeful; and cottonwood, the water hog of the canyons. Why do I call cedar vengeful? Because it is a tree which, when one of its branches is broken off, seems to get quite annoyed, and that branch will break in such a way as to create a spiked tout and jab you in your tender parts as soon as your back is turned, or purposely snag your khimar until you're in a twisted tizzy. Seriously. Cedar branches should always be disarmed by sawing off their ends. And cottonwoods? They seem to only grow in or near the arroyos, (which is Spanish for seasonal creek) sucking up all the water that you thought you had when you bought your property. Pion burns a little smoky, but hot. Ponderosa gives a calm, slower burn. Juniper and cedar make your cabin smell great. Cottonwood burns not so hot, but long. Match the wood to the heating or cooking need and you're good to go.
Processing firewood begins with finding a dead tree, preferably one that has already keeled over. Cutting down standing dead trees is tricky business best left to those professional loggers whose business it is to safely cut down tricky trees. So you find the tree and haul out your manly-man chain saw. (For obvious reasons, only my husband mans the chainsaw around here. I have a strong attachment to my fingers and toes.) Cut the tree into pieces that'll fit your woodstove, and haul them home. Here's where the fun comes in. Now it's time to split 'em! Since we haven't gotten our solar panels yet, and gas is too expensive, we have a manual log splitter. Slower, yes, but it's quiet, and an excellent upper-body workout. Don't waste money on a gym membership...cut a few piles of wood every other day!
Cutting your own firewood makes you really appreciate the ni'mah of it and the mercy of living in a place where you have access to lots of it. You learn to harvest it wisely, burn it prudently and respect the power and energy that it contains. If you're careless with it, it'll smoke you out of the house, or worse, burn your house down. Like any other provision Allah sends you, use it well and for the purpose it was made, and it becomes hasanah. But just as you can never have too much of the blessings of Allah, you can never, ever, never have too much wood. Never.
ìThen tell Me about the fire which you kindle. Is it you who made the tree thereof to grow, or are We the Grower? We have made it a reminder (of the Hellfire in the Hereafter) and an article of use for the travelers (and all others in this world). Then glorify with praises the Name of your Lord, Most Greatî (Surat-ul Waqiah, ayat 71-74)
Cuts of wood from logs.