The View from Mudsock Heights: Good News Reminds Me I Have a Lot of Work to Do Before Winter

By Dennis Powell | Posted at 10:37 PM

Happy surprises are so rare that when one occurs it’s worth passing along. I had been worried that I was running out of propane. It had been a year or more since the big tank got filled and, glancing at the gauge a few weeks ago I saw it was pretty low.

But the price of propane drops enough to notice in mid-July, when people are using less so the supply exceeds the demand. If I could just hang on a little bit more, I would save considerable money. It’s a 500-gallon tank, but it would be unwise to put 500 gallons of propane into it, because there needs to be airspace to allow for expansion and contraction as the temperature changes. Generally, 400 gallons is the limit. When gas becomes a quarter-a-gallon cheaper, that’s $100.

So I conserved. It’s not as if I burn gas with wild abandon anytime, but now I was especially parsimonious. A guest was encouraged to take short showers. Anything that could be cooked with the microwave instead of the stovetop or oven was cooked there. It became a game.

A little more than a week ago, the summer sale price arrived and I urged Jimmy over at BFS to put me near the top of the list; I was surely running, literally, on vapors.
It is a credit to their upbringing that Jimmy and the fellow who came with him to fill the tank did not point and laugh at me, at least not in my presence.

Turns out, either the gauge hadn’t been working the day I looked at it (my story) or I misread it (their story). Not only was the tank not empty, it was almost 60 percent full. I had run the household for the last year on just over 100 gallons of gas! This was an unbelievable statistic, but the fact that all I needed was a topping off proved it.

Did I rejoice? Well, yes, but the delight was tempered by guilt.

The reason I used so little gas was that I didn’t light the furnace last winter, even for a minute. The combustion that heated the house was entirely provided by the woodstove. What a good thing it is that I installed it, and how quickly it is paying itself off.
But here I am, toward the end of July, and the wood supply has not grown this year at all. I’ve marked the trees that are due for destruction, and have even made some preliminary moves toward transforming them into split and stacked cordwood. If planning were enough, I’d have wood to heat the county. But it’s not.

And it’s getting late. Already, unless we have a late winter there will not be anywhere near enough time for the wood to season properly. I’ll have to stack it — some of it, anyway — in the tin-roofed garage-barn-shop that on summer days gets too hot to work in. That will help it along, I hope. Even if it does, my laxity in cutting wood cannot be easily forgiven, though generally I can forgive myself almost anything.

Cutting, splitting, and stacking wood is hard work, but it is a pleasure to me. There is near-instant gratification in seeing the neatly piled wood, and delight in anticipating the warm glow of the woodstove as it consumes well-seasoned fuel. I may have lost my nerve a little bit this year, though. Local events and my affection for the “reality” shows about loggers have reminded me that woodcutting is not an entirely safe undertaking nor it is one that can be made entirely safe. I grow timid in my dotage. The slightest inattention, or just plain bad luck, and things can go wrong in a hurry.

If worse came to worst, I suppose I could buy a little firewood to get myself started for the winter. But this has itself gotten problematic. The emerald ash borer or green hell bug or whatever it is called has become a threat, and we’re discouraged from importing firewood, lest the evil little things hitchhike along and extend their range. (Why is it that invading insects never do anything beneficial? Why does the emerald ash borer eat ash trees instead of, say, multiflora roses and those awful olive trees that are all over the place?)

So there’s no escaping it. If I wish to keep the furnace turned off this winter, I have to get to it in one quick hurry. I’ll be as careful as I can be, and now I have the encouragement of profit motive. It used to be that the gas tank needed to be filled a couple of times a year. Now, if the last year is typical, it needs filling once every three or four years. All that’s necessary is firewood.

Truth be known, there’s an even more powerful motivation. I kept the furnace off all last winter. The furnace must never be turned on again.

Now it’s a matter of pride.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at

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