Homestead Alternatives
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Before the Furnace
   I recently went through several old trunks of 'things' that were saved by my wifes' grandmother.   I read letters and postcards, looked at old pictures, farmers almanacs and bibles. There were carefully folded letters from fathers and sons that were fighting wars in far away places.  I noted how carefully  each word was chosen and the elegance of their handwriting.  I saw photographs of two bedroom homes that kept large families safe and warm. Firewood stacked neatly near a shed and large windows facing south.  These were just everyday, hard working people that knew what it took to survive the Montana winters.


               Passive Solar School House in Eastern Montana circa 1900

   I thought of my fathers stories about fetching water and the mad dash to the out house, in the dead of winter. Stories about wearing gloves and sweaters to the supper table and sleeping three kids to a bed.  These were things that all rural Montanans did, to keep warm, during the winter months.  You handled the fuels that heated your home and you knew how much effort it took to create that heat.  When natural gas and electric heat were introduced, most people lost touch with energy consumption.  The only thing that we had to lift  was our hands to adjust a thermostat.
  My wife and I spent a year living in a 250 square foot cabin that had no running water, wood heat and an out house with a fur lined toilet seat. We did have electricity for our 19 inch black and white TV that kind of picked up two channels.  It was here, that we learned how to conserve water and how to wake up in the middle of the night  to add wood to the barrel stove. There were times that we had to  open the window because we had over fed the Ashley and pegged the thermometer.  We washed dishes in the creek and hauled drinking water from town.  When my folks came to Thanksgiving dinner, my Dad didn't want to leave.  He could feel the bond that we had with that cozy little cabin.  I added a little greenhouse, to the front porch, that helped to heat the cabin during sunny winter days.  We took solar heated showers and ate a lot of top Ramon noodles.   This is when I really learned just how much I truly loved the woman that I have shared the past 32 years with. 

I guess that the lesson learned here, is one of adaptability.  Our bodies do get used to fluctuating temperatures and we can learn how to  wear more or less clothing to regulate comfort.  This was how my parents and grandparents survived the cold Montana winters and I learned that it was just not that difficult.  We just turn down the thermostat, put the down comforter on the bed, keep an afghan blanket  by the sofa and cut wood for the fire, and still stay comfortable when the bitter cold is just outside our door.  And yes, we did have three dogs for those bitter cold Montana nights.  I wouldn't have had it any other way!

  I would like to hear from anyone else that has a story about keeping warm by unconventional or "antiquated" means.  The lessons that were learned by earlier generations are the key to a sustainable energy future.
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