We heat with wood. To do that requires more work and maintenance than most modern people do, but it is, for the most part, good exercise, not long-in-the-doing and, strangely, interesting in a zen-kinda way. And always different. Of course we add to the fun by wrangling logs found at sea and hauling them up a small cliff just to get started in the process. Heating with wood is a long story and today we just added a new chapter.
As regular readers know, we have had the wood stove for over a decade and we like it a lot. Pacific Energy. It’s just the right size. But burning salt-water wood ‘eats’ the stove from the inside out and so we recently took the whole thing apart and had it rebuilt. Made a bit more skookum this time. I told the stove guy: “I’d like it to see me out.”
“How long you plan on livin’?”
It’s a heavy sucker and it required dismantling, removal, down the hill. Onto the boat. Off the boat. Into the truck and then, a day later, delivered to the master stove builder who resides down island. And, of course, all that in reverse. A week later, we were $800 lighter but the stove was a little heavier. Plus we added two new lengths of pipe. AAaaannnnnnd ……thennnnnnn, we put it all together and waited for the first cold day. That was about a week ago….or so…
The stove was better. It was NOT THAT MUCH better but we had gone for maintenance and longevity, NOT high performance, so being better was good. Still…….it was really, REALLY not better-better and we kinda thought it should have been.
Then, a few days in, the smoke started. That was a bit unnerving. Smoke poured forth from the chimney pipe seams. THAT was weird. Weird because part of the restoring process included taking down the entire chimney and cleaning it out completely. It was pristine when we put it back up.
Mind you, the through-the-roof part is a fixed-in-place unit that I can only service by pushing a bristly chimney sweep brush through without being able to see inside but I have been doing that for years and it has always resulted in ‘clean’.
A day or so later, Sal had thought about it. “I think I have to go on the roof.”
“Sounds like a plan. What for?”
“The chimney. I’ve been thinking, I think the chimney cap is blocked.”
“I cleaned it. I half-filled a plastic bag with soot. I am pretty sure it’s clean.”
“I am pretty sure it’s not.”
So, I threw a rope over the whole house and secured it. Then we got a bucket of tools and cleaning apparatus and hauled it up to the peak. And then Sal climbed up onto the sleek, metal roof and headed up to the chimney top. When she is up there, she is 28 feet from the rocks below. Mind you, if she slipped, she would likely slide to the lower, gutter level and then just flip off the edge and fall only twenty feet. But rocks are almost as hard at 20 feet as 30 and so we try to avoid that.
She removed the chimney top and discovered a 6 inch crusty build-up that had been just a few inches above the reach of the bristly brush and had slowly built up over the years. By the time Sal discovered it, it was almost closed. Imagine: a large soot-bagel (6″ in diameter) stuck at the very top and just a small bagel-hole opening for smoke. She was right!
Sal cleaned it all out, then came down and cleaned all the gutters and then we went back inside to test the stove. It worked and ‘drew’ like a model stove at a home show. It is perfect again.
But the main point of the story is, of course, Sal. My wife is 66. She’s fit, flexible and fearless. Plus she does yoga. She went up that roof like she was 17. More to the point, she was ‘thinking chimney’. I know that sounds crazy but, typically, that kind of thought process is ‘Dave’s stuff’. Sal thinks about all sorts of things, of course, but systems, physics, how-things-work and repairing and building challenges are usually left to me to figure out. But when I drew a blank she ‘got on the case’ and re-examined the whole thing in her head and came to the proper conclusion – one that I might never get to since I was 99.99% sure it was all clean.
Nor did she hesitate. “I have to go up on the roof.”
Why make such a big deal of this? 1. We recently had occasion to visit an old person’s institution, a rest home, a seniors living kinda thing. When we were there, I asked how old the people were who lived there. “Our youngest is in her late 50’s and our oldest turns 100 soon but the average is about 70 to 75.”
“Why would a person in their 50’s live here?”
“They feel old, I guess. And some people are old especially by their late 60’s.”
“I’m 70. My wife is 66. I don’t see this for me or her for at least another 70 years!”
“Neither of you look that old!”
So Sal, it seems, is doing pretty damn good. This life is doing us both good. But there is a second reason to tell the story. Out here, you do for yourself. There are no services. There are few people to hire and little money to throw around. Plus, few people can know what we know about our self-built house and it would probably take five times longer to explain and prepare them than it does to just do the damn job in the first place. And I have the extra goal of having Sal as able as anyone to do anything as it may arise. I want Sal to be as capable as she can be.
Somebody has to see me out.
She has proven more capable than me several times but I was always needed for – at the very least – problem solving, initiative and supervision. I generally knew more about the problem and the solution needed even if I couldn’t get into the space or crevice to actually do it. NOT this time. This time Sal had it all covered. From the get-go. Problem solving, planning the attack, choosing her tools, implementing the plan and doing it right. Being right. Being able. I was just the go-fer.
And I made the tea afterwards.