The wood comes from another neighbor’s multi-acre eucalyptus grove. Some of the trees are huge—three or more feet in diameter, a hundred feet tall. The landowner, Lyn, can pull out seven or eight properly chosen big trees each year and still replace all that biomass in the next year’s growth. It strikes me as a sustainable yield. Several neighbors rely on her for their winter wood; the lot pumps out a good fifteen cords a year, and in our mild climate, you can heat a 2000-square-foot house using only wood by burning about a cord and a half.
The point of my little tale is this: My neighbor with the giant woodpile is thinking that the most secure source of wood is the store of it in his yard. But—to put it in systems language—that’s focusing on stocks over flows. We tend to do that in this culture. However, the real wood source is the woodlot in Lyn’s yard: the standing, growing trees, getting bigger each year, healthy and enlarging rather than rotting and getting punky on the ground.
Sure, it’s a good idea to keep two years of firewood on hard, which would be about three or four cords. But twenty cords? That’s a ten or fifteen year supply here. It’s a mammoth task to split and stack it all (only a fifth or so has been split in the last year, and who can blame them?); it should be covered or it will start to rot, and that’s a huge area to cover; and even with the best of care, by year five it will be breaking down and thus won’t heat as well.
Meanwhile, Lyn’s woodlot is cranking out fifteen cords of beautiful firewood every year. But we don’t tend to see flows as sources of abundance as easily as we see it in stocks—in piles of inert, stored, easily measured stuff. One reason for this is our culture’s focus on things rather than on processes, relationships, and dynamics. Another is that it’s easy to trust that by squirreling away a fat store of something in a safe place, we will be able to use it. But trusting that, say, some seeds freshly planted will truly feed you in a few months time, or that those trees will produce just as much wood next year as this—that takes a leap of faith. Especially in our culture, inculcated with scarcity and fear, we have more faith what we can see in front of us right now than in some gradual process that could, in our doubt-ridden imaginations, go awry at any moment. Those of you who have seen my pieces on humanity’s transition from foraging to agriculture know that I believe that hunter-gatherers were secure in the knowledge that the wild world would always provide sustenance of some kind—that nature could be trusted—while agricultural people have lost that, and are taught that only our own hard work and piling up a storable surplus can guarantee survival.