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Volume 15, Issue 43 ~ October 25 - October 31, 2007

I’d Rather Be Fishing

If winter ever comes, this grasshopper will suffer

I got to thinking of three-dog nights the other day. It was the calendar, not the weather that reminded me we were deep into autumn. I had done nothing about insulating the family abode up here on the shores of Stony Creek in North County.

Last year, I was lulled into complacency. As a Yankee, I’m ashamed to report I did no insulating. If you recall, it was December before we got a hint of winter weather. Deer season was on, and I wasn’t about to miss any of it. I opted to pay the oil company to keep the 11-room house warm enough for habitation. It was costly.

Get-Warm-Quick Schemes

This year, rather than drop fishing the waning weeks of the rockfish season, I briefly pondered buying six dogs, three each for Lois and me. Cats Zelda and Karla vetoed it. They have the last word, but they’re not much for warmth.

I’ve a few other thoughts of how to keep on fishing by turning to other stop-gap remedies to block winter from seeping through the cracks of doors and windows. Too bad we don’t have cows. Old-time Vermonters piled cow manure around the foundations of their houses. They were warm, but they had to hold their noses.

I could build a wooden frame around the house and pack fallen leaves between a wooden barrier and the foundation. But building the barrier would take a couple days out of the rockfish season. If I took a short cut and didn’t build the barrier, the leaves would be blown away by first frost. And my neighbors don’t like raking any more than I do.

I could remind Lois how cozy we thought the fireplace was in winter of our younger years. But we don’t have many logs on the woodpile, and I have doubts that, even if I bought 10 cords of hardwood, one fireplace could generate enough heat that some pipes far from the fireplace wouldn’t freeze.

Thirty years ago, I built a 30-foot by 30-foot, one-room addition on the west side of our rancher for an office. Our existing furnace couldn’t handle another room of that size, and with six kids, some about to go to college soon, I went for visible amenities instead of insulation and settled for a built-in fireplace of the Heatilater variety.

While I wrote, I could add another log to the fire when I was momentarily stuck. Anyhow, I liked chill. Sixty degrees was okay with me; it thwarted drowsiness in the long hours I wrote for magazines and newspapers, and my TV and radio reports. Not once did it enter my mind that old age was ahead and tolerable chill would not remain so. My grand office has been a storage room for years.

I’ve thought of insulating, but I can’t shake memories of friend Alan Doelp who years ago bought a house that wasn’t insulated. He likes comfort, had no fireplace, and like me, is frugal and a fairly competent do-it-yourselfer. He decided to insulate the homestead himself, but didn’t allow enough space between exterior and interior walls. Mildew set in and set him back a bundle.

A Best-Laid Plan Gone Awry

As I muse, I think of Don, who lived in something like a chalet near St. Johnsbury, Vermont, some years ago. Vermont gets much colder than hereabouts, 25 below isn’t uncommon, and he discovered his water pipe wasn’t deep enough.

To keep it from freezing in extreme cold snaps, he made periodic assaults with a blowtorch. One summer, he decided to insulate. But before he got to it, the commode sprang a minor leak, and Don discovered his freezing problem was solved. Just enough water ran from the water tank to stop the freezing.

All went well until one winter when a plumber visited. While Don was out of the house, the plumber discovered the leak. As a grateful guest, he decided to fix it to surprise his host. Don didn’t notice. His guest went home. Come winter, his pipes froze solid.

The Cold Voice of Reason

So I’m still in a quandary. Lois doesn’t go for the idea of turning on the electric oven and opening its door. That would make the kitchen too hot. My suggestion — use the heat to cook the fish I caught this fall — cut no ice. She can’t stand the smell of an auxiliary kerosene heater either, and electric ones are unsafe.

I suggested another old New England remedy. Between the hedge and the foundation of the house I’d put bales of straw that couldn’t be seen. “No way,” she said. “Get on to the hardware store.”

She’s got this thing about coziness. Tops on her Christmas list a few years back was one of those gadgets with which she can start her car from the bedroom. The car heats up while the engine is purring; windshield wipers and defroster clear the windshield of snow. The only chill involved is from the front door to the Camry’s front door — and she calls that roughing it.

When I suggested buying her another fur coat, she reminded me that she no longer wears the silver fox jacket I gave her 20 years ago for fear an animal rights extremist will target it with a plastic bag of paint or ink. What a woman; too bad we weren’t married the year I spent in Alaska.

Yet I won’t admit defeat. She’s at work at Anne Arundel Community College as I write. Soon as she gets home, I’ll remind her that the couple days taken for insulating will deprive me of fishing, which will deprive me of income. If we can’t afford insulation, oil and electricity, then we will have no heat at all.

Maybe she’ll go for that.

Enough said.

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