Extreme Frugality: I am the Ant

It’s time to start getting ready for winter instead of living the life of a grasshopper, playing music and feasting all summer long.
extreme frugality

The other afternoon, Lisa drove home to find Helen, Angus, and me making a large, circular house out of cordwood.

“Why aren’t you weeding?” she asked, understandably. I had 50 percent of the kids working, and we were neglecting our most important summer project. What was I thinking?

“I’m getting ready for winter. We’re building a Holz Hausen!”* What sets a Holz Hausen—literally, a wood house—apart from any other way of stacking wood is that it actually accelerates the drying process without any added expense. The ten-foot-tall house is built in a ten-foot-diameter circle. The outer logs are laid side-by-side like the spokes of a wheel to make the circle, with the inside filled by pieces that stand vertically end-to-end. You pile log on log, slightly tilting toward the middle with the outer pieces—until it stands seven feet tall. Then you ever so slightly start tilting the outer pieces outward so that by the time you reach ten feet, you have a natural roof of split logs, bark side up, to shed rain and snow. The inner pieces, standing end-to-end, create a chimney, circulating air and heat throughout the entire structure. Stored in a Holz Hausen, green firewood can dry in 3 months instead of the typical 18.

Dedicated readers know that we switched from heating our home with oil to using a woodstove last winter. We scraped by—not because we just happened to have five cords of dry firewood sitting outside our home, but because Lisa bartered some legal work for enough wood to last until spring. If we hadn’t needed wood and, more importantly, have been willing to barter, her client wouldn’t have been able to pay her. We would have harassed him and eventually dismissed him as a cheating scoundrel. He would have marked us off as just another couple of priggish white-collar assholes while knowing that he hadn’t made good on his debt. By bartering, everybody won. We got what was near impossible—truly dry wood in the middle of winter—and he paid his bill and won a couple of fans along the way.

The wood the kids and I were turning into a Holz Hausen, however, had an equally satisfying provenance. We’d bartered three dozen eggs and a loaf of our bread, per week, for a year for three-and-a-half cords of wood.

“That’s fine,” the ant queen allowed, as she lugged her legal books and purse into the house, “but how about helping me weed in the lower garden after I get changed? What good will a warm home do this winter if we don’t have anything to fill our stomachs?”

While she might have been stretching things a bit since we haven’t given up on shopping, I knew my place within the colony.

“Yes, my lady.”

The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah ….

*Here’s a good illustration and explanation of a German Holz Hausen, although the plans are for one that is seven feet tall instead of the traditional ten.

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