Posted by: deadmousediaries | April 16, 2011

A Country Girl Can Survive – some gratitude attitude from Mitchell Kyd

I paid my electric bill today and included a little love note. No, really.  I added a little hand-scribbled note thanking my electric company for keeping my heat and lights on every day in this extended winter. I’ve seen one too many newscasts from places like Washington, D.C., where residents have to live without electricity and heat for as many as five days after Mother Nature throws a tantrum.

I’m grateful that has never happened here in my memory, but if it did, I know that it wouldn’t be nearly as much of a hardship for  Small Town, Pennsylvania. We live among resourceful folks, a lot of whom still embrace that Depression Era philosophy: Use it up; wear it out. Make it do or do without. Losing electricity? Ha! We laugh in the face of adversity! Losing a standard heat source? Well, that does demand we be a little more creative.

For starters, a fireplace, wood stove, kerosene heater and maybe even a generator is standard issue for many homes in rural Pennsylvania.  And even if your family isn’t yet properly equipped, you heard the neighbors’ chainsaws buzzing in November.  You usually don’t have to go too far to find a friend who is older, wiser, and better prepared and who will share some BTUs.

When the heat goes out here, we dig in and hunker down. We not only survive the night, we celebrate our Pioneering spirit.  For instance, in the hectic days just before Christmas, someone at our house forgot to check the level in our fuel tank and we found ourselves without heat on a Saturday afternoon. Did we fret? No sir! We closed as many interior doors as possible, snuggled up in our woolies that first night and resolved we would not declare this an emergency; we could and would wait for a Monday fuel delivery.

The next day, the two of us who weren’t scheduled to appear in a heated place of employment proceeded to  spend Sunday afternoon sequestered in the closed-off kitchen. We  washed a lot of dishes to keep our hands warm and we baked lunch, dinner and three desserts just to keep the oven heated.  The kitchen soon felt toasty from all that unusual domestic activity, so we declared a mandatory break during which time we shared sleeping bags with the dog and watched movies on a laptop. (And in case you never realized it, the term “three dog night” is an authentic Aboriginal expression that communicates just how cold a night can really get !)  That adventure, too, has passed and now it’s all just another story in the Mitchell family album.

But what about those city dwellers in D.C. who don’t know kerosene from gasoline or who won’t be welcomed around a neighbor’s wood stove? I ran across some interesting statistics recently that I think present some fascinating possibilities about how they could cope but they aren’t the kinds of impromptu solutions you’ll see touted on the six o’clock news.

First of all, here in Franklin County, we see a cord of wood as a guarantee of warm and comfy evenings spent at home.  We cut it and burn it with no complicated process in the middle. But, that same 8′ x 4′ x 4′ stack of hardwood could have some other uses.  For instance, a cord of wood can also produce:

1,000 – 2,000 pounds of paper

942 100-page hardcover books

61,370 #10 business envelopes

4,384,000 common size postage stamps

1,200 copies of National Geographic

2,700 copies of an average-size daily newspaper

There may be no logs or kindling stacked on Pennsylvania Avenue, but I bet there’s paper. I discovered that the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper each year and that there are 2,748,978 civilian federal employees, 97.6% of whom work in the executive branch of the government. (Isn’t that primarily D.C.?) Furthermore, the Health Care Reform bill alone was 2700 pages thick (with countless drafts) AND paper burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit (Bradbury wasn’t kidding!)

I haven’t had a math class since 1971 so don’t expect me to unveil some astounding heat-per-person calculations based on all these facts but I think you get my drift. Maybe the story behind the story is that there really shouldn’t be any serious temporary fuel issues in our nation’s capitol if the lights go out .

Here’s my thinking: if the recycling bins are simply opened for business, the entrepreneurs will surely design a delivery system to turn this free fuel source into a free enterprise buck. The carbon emissions released from a brief emergency burning during a January recess could hardly be worse than the ones created by the filibusters of  full session so the environmental impact shouldn’t be an issue. And besides, isn’t our country proud of our ability to respond promptly — and creatively –to a crisis?

Sometimes watching TV news is good if it reminds us to be grateful. If you’re happy to claim Small Town, Pennsylvania, as your address, embrace what it means to be resourceful. And with Arbor Day just ahead on April 29th, plant a tree to celebrate. If it doesn’t help your grand kids warm their toes, it may just grow up to be make some news as the cover of National Geographic!

Copyright 2011. Mitchell Kyd.  All rights reserved.



  1. Brilliant! Can I vote for you????

    • Me, too!

  2. A pleasure to read and reminisce about a few days in my life without heat!

  3. interesting thing about those city folk is that city life is built on the recognition that close living demands the sacrifice of self-sufficiency. Close quarters simply don’t accommodate kerosene heaters, trees, gardens, tools, etc. Hmm. New food for thought.

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