“I challenge you Daddy”

I almost gave in.

After all, oil prices are down and that is good for consumers who buy gas and oil, isn’t it? I haven’t checked, but I assume if I buy some fuel oil for the furnace right now it would be much cheaper than if I had bought it in October when I started this crazy challenge.

Sure, the whole point was to refuse to buy fossil fuels because burning them is warming the planet, not because they are too expensive, but I’m tired of scrounging for wood for the fire and tired of having to make fires first thing in the morning or when we get home.

On December 30th I realised that we were running low on wood and that, if I was going to get some fuel oil delivered, I had better order it before the New Year’s holiday. Ridley Fuels knows about our situation and agreed to rush our order if needed.

I was telling all this to my daughter who is 8. She looked at me and said,

“I challenge you, Daddy.”

I was a little stunned.

“We’re almost finished winter and I think you can do it and not buy any oil.”

Okay, really we’re not even halfway through winter, but what could I do but go back to the Interwebs and source out some more wood. I remembered another Scouter told me the pallets from the Scout Christmas Tree lot were free for the taking so, after dropping the kids off with said Scouter and family and borrowing said Scouter’s pick-up, I had 12 or 14 wooden pallets to cut up.

They seemed fairly easy to take apart so I tried that. This is what that looked like.

Nasty nails in a board mean I can't ask the kids to "go fetch some wood" without risking their lives
Nasty nails in a board mean I can’t ask the kids to “go fetch some wood” without risking their lives

Then a handy neighbour came over (his name is Ron and he is the same neighbour who makes community libraries in Hammond) and taught me what I suspected in the first place. You don’t need to take these things apart before you burn them. In fact, if you do you get nasty nails sticking up everywhere. Here is a photo of some nasty nails in a board that you can’t see because the photo is overexposed. Sigh.

Incidentally, I notice quite a few Maple Ridge homes with wood smoke coming from their chimneys lately. These people must be saving money by reducing the amount of natural gas or electricity they consume. We are so dependent on utilities for our basic comfort, sometimes it can cause resentment–especially when the prices fluctuate wildly. I think I share with them that feeling of “sticking it to the man” by heating with free wood. Just think how much more satisfying it will feel to reduce our heating/cooling bill to almost zero without even the pollution caused by wood-burning!

So I took Ron’s advice and this is what that looked like:

Working outside, shedding clothes as you go tends to attract attention. Another neighbour said I could cut up their bench for firewood. There it is in the photo. They made it themselves!
Pallet cutting 4I didn’t have the heart. So far it is sitting on our front porch inviting us to enjoy a sunset. If I get desperate for wood again, its luck may not last.

Even without taking the pallets apart first, I still left my kids with friends longer than I wanted to. If you add up the value of my time and labour, the gas used to pick up the pallets, etc. is it really worth it?

In dollars and cents, I don’t think so. However, climate change has already started to cost Canada and the world a lot of money and we have to take those expenses into account somehow. “It’s not my responsibility” isn’t helping much.

At least by burning wood I am releasing carbon that has only been trapped there for a few decades. Burning fuel oil, gasoline or natural gas releases carbon that was happily trapped in the earth for millions of years. We now understand we can’t keep doing that.

I like to think the value in this Empty Tank Challenge is the story I’m telling. It is one story among many of families stepping up and fighting the warming of the planet. I hope it makes all the other families doing the same feel not quite so alone.

This is how much wood I ended up with:

And make no mistake, it is a challenge. We got home tonight after staying overnight with my parents in Vancouver to a cold house. We were gone for 32 hours and when we returned the thermostat read 11.5 degrees Celsius (53 F). The kids took a hot water bottle to bed. It felt like winter camping! After 3 and a half hours of fire in the wood-burning insert and AC/heater running in the kitchen, the thermostat has achieved 18.5 degrees (65 F).

I’m going to take the unusual step of wearing pjs to bed.

Good night!

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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