Thursday, January 07, 2010

An Allegory

I live in a pretty old house.

Built of brick and uneven planks of wood, this year marks the 170th anniversary of its construction.

My wife and I bought the house several years back as the place to raise our kids. It came with a busted roof, termite damage, faulty pipes, and zero insulation... but it was ours.

And we love it.

Even on nights like tonight when the heater goes up.

Actually, the heater went up a while ago. Some three years' back, actually. We were coping with a big ol' broken boiler installed in the year 1927. It had once been converted from oil to gas; and in its current condition, it couldn't power the radiators scattered through the house.

Now, the house had originally been built on the premise of a great hearth than ran straight up through the middle of the house. But over the years, as the house was connected to electricity and energy became cheaper, the fireplaces had been closed up (I thought it was humorous that the only insulation I actually found in the entire house was stuffed into one of the flues).

The boiler being dead, my wife and I decided that it was as good a time as any to go off the grid for our heat. So we looked into option of installing new flues in the chimney, but apparently chimneys in 1840 weren't built to 2000's codes. Just to get the thing to code, we'd have to completely tear it down and build it back up -- just to install the flues, we'd have to deconstruct nearly half the house, a huge sacrifice in terms of labor, money, and emotion.

So, instead we opted instead to do something completely different. We bought and installed a heavy-duty pellet stove.

So for the last three winters, I've woken up each morning, grabbed a 40 pound bag of compressed sawdust, and dumped it into the stove in the basement. And it's kept us warm. Relatively.

For, there have been problems. Hardships we've had to deal with in the name of going off the grid.

There are mornings when the stove has run out of pellets in the wee hours and I wake up being able to see my breath. And there are nights like tonight when the stove gets stopped up and just won't perform for us without an immediate cleaning.

It's almost as though the house doesn't want to get warm. It's as though the house thinks it could exist just fine without us.

After all, it's seen all sorts of ways humans have tried to produce heat. And it's withstood them all. It's seen fathers chop and haul wood, collect oil in a drum, pay hand-over-fist to a gas company, and load sawdust pellets 40 pounds at a time. It's seen those men live and die. And the house is still here. The house knows that it's greater than the people who live in it.

But the house isn't all that mobile. So the house hasn't walked down the block to see the house that was abandoned three years ago. When the old lady moved out, they said the kids might have the old house knocked down. Little did anyone know that the kids would let the house destroy itself.

Rather than pay a bulldozer to crush the little bungalow, they just turned off the utilities and left the house to the fate of Tintern Abbey.

My house didn't know what kind of future it would face without people. It had seen termites, but it didn't really know termites. It had seen cold, but it didn't really know cold.

In the end, the occasional cold mornings are worth the satisfaction of being greener and more self-sufficient. Despite whatever the house thinks.


  1. Thank you for the poetry tonight. My soul needed it, even in a warm house.

  2. This post reminded me of a children's book that my parents and I would read together and that I bought recently to start reading to my own daughter. The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. Sometimes I feel like that house lost in the city: apartment dwelling does that to you, miss my first house built in the 1800s in Guilford, CT.


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