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Competitive Heating

From the Maine Press Herald, a reporter’s request for info from readers:

Have you turned your heat on yet? It’s a point of pride for a lot of Mainers to keep the heat off as long into the fall as possible, then compare and contrast their furnace turn on date with friends and neighbors. Do you remember the latest you turned your heat on in any given year? Do you do certain things to make sure you don’t have to turn your heat on until November? Do you feel bad if you turn your heat on before October?

This is very amusing, because Texans have no such point of pride about their AC turn-on date. In fact, in many places AC seems to be constantly on. One of my neighbors has her AC going in March. I used to try to stave off AC season as long as possible, but this year I realized that our house doesn’t ventilate well otherwise: once it gets hot and humid enough, moisture condenses on the (relatively cooler) concrete slab. Solution? Turn on the AC.

If you do say to Texans that you turned your AC on later or didn’t turn it on at all, perhaps because you didn’t have it, they won’t congratulate you for your fortitude but look at you askance for your foolishness.

So I’m explaining this to Misty, who says: so when you said you were splitting wood, you were actually splitting wood because you used it for heat? Yeah — it’s not like a rite of passage or a ceremonial photo, chopping the half-cord that makes you a man, not like Texas, where babies and kids sitting in bluebonnets are photographed, or where you get your picture taken with your first deer. I grew up splitting wood all the time, spent more time with pieces of trees than I did among whole, live trees. We cut and split and stacked wood almost all year, except for that short period in the winter when all the fallen trees were under the snow, though even then you were moving wood from the woodshed to the basement, from the basement up the stairs to the woodbox by the woodstove. It has been strange to me (I realize now) to live in places where one doorway is not littered with bark chips. Though a lot, once we get to Maine, will seem strange to me, how I have lived here, how I expected to.

(And honestly, I don’t say this in a When I Was a Boy, We Ate Hardship For Breakfast sort of way–the truth is, if it wasn’t inconvenient, filling the woodbox had its moments of pleasure. In our house, the staircase to the basement was tight and steep, ladder-like, so maneuvering up with an arm-load of wood was a feat of balance; an everyday feat, but still. Filling the box in three or four trips made me feel strong, and girls liked muscles.