Farmm Blogg: Wood heat and other thoughts

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Wood heat. Yes, wood heat. The best heat?

The best, yes…but labour intensive.

I think we tend to take heated homes for granted. As someone who’s spent the past four months living with wood heat, I can tell you that waking up in the morning, walking out into the living room and just turning a dial…boom…a quiet whirring of an engine starting up and suddenly heat comes blasting out of a hole in the floor. Well, that’s the epitome of a civilised world.

It’s the ease that we take for granted.

It’s the ease of life that we take for granted. No, not the little trials and tribulations of daily life. Not the little annoyances . But the actual ease of life we here in Canada tend to enjoy. The fact that we don’t have to light the stove in the morning; that we don’t have to fetch water from the well. It is these things that are indicative of an easy, modern life.

We forget so easily that life on this planet is in all actuality a great challenge, and a whole lot of work. We forget that it is essentially all about life and death. All the things we take for granted in our lives, all the little luxuries and conveniences are the result of complex systems of inter-relating parts. The simplicity of life that surrounds us is in fact perched high atop a great web of incredibly complex systems. And so easy to forget as we just turn on the computer from the safety of our centrally heated condominiums and are instantly ‘connected’ to the rest of the world.

We often tend to, well…not ignore exactly because I’m pretty sure most of us never really knew to begin with, but rather tend to remain ignorant of much of what it actually takes to live on this planet.

The systems that sustain this ease are hidden from view, and so we rarely, if ever, actually think about them. Our food system is like this. And look what we’ve been relying on there. Imagine what else we’re missing.

On the farm today, a friend’s rubber boot sprang a leak. She’d bought them a week ago. For a dollar. Think about that. We, according to the rationale of the economic system we live under, are a culture that produces garbage for consumption. We use valuable resources to actually produce garbage; something so cheap that it’ll break at the slightest provocation. We make this and sell it to each other, and we call this an economy!

It doesn’t make any sense in this world. It doesn’t make sense for any individual to make something for their own use that will break easily. So why make something for someone else that will do so? You make it well, so that it doesn’t break. Only in the ridiculousness of a system that worships on the altar of perpetual growth and profit-at-any-cost could making garbage and selling it to each other somehow make sense.

But I’ve digressed into yet another rant about how ridiculous our situation is when you actually look at it with some perspective. Kurt Vonnegut understood this.

Back to my main point. Do I have a main point? Or am I just sorta rambling?

Do we even have the slightest clue about the vast and intricate systems that underlie our lives. Certainly in the city we don’t. Late last year, as I was winding down my days in Vancouver and the leaves from the thousands of trees that line the city’s streets, a great awareness passed over me. I became aware of the sheer logistical and human effort involved in just this one of these systems: leaf clean-up. Without this mammoth yearly effort, this seemingly benign and relatively inconsequential activity, the entire city would simply disappear under water; it would drown. Without this clean-up, the city would just begin decomposing under the weight of all those fallen leaves!

And that’s just one example of all the system and coordination and indeed cooperation that underlies our way of living.

Out here in the country, on the farm many of those systems are still in place – electricity for example, a godsend. And yet much of the ease, of the simplicity of living we take for granted in the city or the suburbs is missing. Life is about actually working for it, struggling…

Let’s all remember that fact.

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  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Tuesday, 22 May 2012 22:37 posted by Matthew Lewis

    Thanks for sharing Baxter! In regards to the $1 rubber boot, you leave out a big part of why our system produces crap like this. Because people like your friend will buy it. If no one bought $1 rubber boots, they would stop being made. Tell her to guy buy some comfy Baffin boots like in the pic; I could put 2000+ hours in on a pair of those as a fishing guide, so one pair should last a lifetime for the average user.

    Also, thanks for reminding me about this incredible age of abundance that some of us on this planet live in. We get to take so much for granted! There really has never been such a time as this, where so much opportunity exists to accomplish so much.

  • Comment Link Andrew Baxter Tuesday, 22 May 2012 23:43 posted by Andrew Baxter

    You're absolutely right Matt. If no one bought those boots, they'd certainly stop making them. And while this response deserves more time than I'm going to give it, I do think though that such a statement is akin to something like, 'if no one got mad, there'd be peace on Earth. Equally true.

    People are cheap. People are angry. But we live in a time of incredible cheapness; and age in which the well-made and well-worked are increasingly out of fashion. We live in a 'throw-away' culture.

    The economy is based on growth, and the only way to keep growing is to sell more things...people only need so many pairs of boots in their lives, so some genius decided that if they produced stuff that would break right away, they could sell more boots and thereby grow and make more money. Sounds ridiculous. And it is. But that's the economy we've got.

    Planned obsolescence by the seller has become, as it became ever-more embedded in our psyches, planned obsolescence by the consumer. Particularly when it comes to technology and rubber boots!

    Alright, off to feed the pigs.

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Wednesday, 23 May 2012 02:36 posted by Matthew Lewis

    Baxter, I think you like to use a broad brush when describing the economy. Also, the words you employ carry a tone of inevitability and finality. Like, this is the way things have gone, and well, that's that. But we haven't always lived in an age of cheapness, and I don't see any reason why we can't return to having an appreciation for quality and durability in our goods.

    Come to think of it, I have a few examples to contradict your view of the economy when it comes to the craftsmanship of goods. We live in a golden age of quality when it comes to automobiles. They are safer than they ever have been, last longer than they ever have, and there are cars for all tastes and needs. Gas mileage is also heading higher.

    A second example. Labatt and Molson used to have a stranglehold on the Canadian beer market. But that dominance has eroded as craft and local breweries have expanded in the market for beer.

    What else? Coffee is following a similar path I think. Food in general seems to be pushing towards higher quality. I'm spoiled for choice when it comes to tasty and healthy bread these days, at my local super market no less!

    Computer software, technology interfaces, and communications technology are leaps and bounds ahead of where they were a few years ago. Likewise for flat panel screens. Do you remember the cathode ray behemoths? Dinosaurs I say! Dinosaurs walked the earth not too long ago! And by earth, I mean desks and living rooms everywhere.

    So, why has there been a push for quality in these goods and a push for cheapness in others? Why do I insist on buying free range eggs? Would the world be a better place if there were only quality goods, or is there some benefit to having the choice between a crappy pair of rubber boots and a good pair? I'm not sure of the answers, but I will think some more about it.

  • Comment Link Andrew Baxter Wednesday, 23 May 2012 13:49 posted by Andrew Baxter

    I do indeed use a broad brush when describing the economy as I am generally speaking of large trends, but point taken. And as to the tone of inevitability and finality, guilty. But someone has to stand up to the the alternative vision of finality and inevitability presented in the broader world that we are somehow actually moving forward, that things are getting better, and that we have only to tweak our systems and they should work fine. I honestly believe our economy in pretty much every aspect is broken and backwards. And any refusal to honestly confront the basic realities of our place on this planet, how we are interacting with it, and how we allocate our resources is to fall victim to the same sort of willful blindness that dominates our political class.

    (I may be getting even more radical. Look out!)

    In regards the examples you give about food, I would agree that quality is increasingly important. But even here, our governments and large industrial farming industry are working to transform this honest desire for better, higher quality food into a marketing opportunity. So-called 'free range' eggs are generally simply modified factory farm eggs. Farm fresh eggs are another matter altogether.

    Cars are not of a higher quality now than they used to be! They may be safer to drive, but I would wager the farm that you will not see a car built today around in thirty years. Not necessarily because they couldn't last that long, but the engines are too complex for any mortal to maintain let lone rebuild and they are poorly built with composites and plastics that degrade and are next to impossible to refurbish as opposed to a material that will steel. They also look like shit!

    Beer. Yes, I suppose that more people are drinking better beers. But the market-shares of these beers is still very, very small. And coffee too. Tim Horton's is by far and away the biggest coffee in Canada and there ain't no quality there.

    So yes, there are exceptions to the general cheapness of our culture, but I don't think that negates or contradicts the general trend towards the production of garbage as the fundamental basis of our economic system. It's a broad brush but that certainly doesn't mean it isn't real.

    Okay, off to feed the chickens.

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Wednesday, 23 May 2012 21:05 posted by Matthew Lewis

    Here is an article to support my claim on increasing quality in automobiles,

    As for coffee, from the Agriculture Canada website, speaking about a coffee trade show

    "The trend seen at the show of individualized espresso-based drinks showed that consumers are no longer satisfied with drinking brewed coffee. Other consumer demands include information on origin/source, and locally grown, fair-trade, organic, and green coffee products. The coffee industry has been quick to respond to this lucrative market, worth approximately $650 million a year in Canada, with many products exhibited at the show meeting these consumer demands."

    I'd be happy to look at the evidence you would present to indicate that cars and coffee are declining or flat in quality, variety, or any metric.

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