Missing pollution in the crisp, clean air

  • Lise Waring

 

This cold-weather week, I've seen two pickup trucks parked in town, each stacked high with firewood. This may be a sure sign of the coming of winter in rural towns across the nation, but it's become an uncommon sight in downtown Telluride these days.

When I moved to Telluride in the 1980s, almost every house was heated by wood. A quality woodstove is a worthy heat source because it can bring a room from freezing to blow-your-socks-off hot in a matter of minutes. I remember many a dinner with housemates, sitting around the table in only our long underwear, with faces flushed and the doors and windows wide open while a snowstorm raged outside. If we'd had a thermostat, I'm sure it would have hovered near 90 degrees. Of course, we could have damped the stove to reduce the flame. But we didn't, at least not until we went to bed, knowing we wouldn't stoke the fire again until morning. It sounds profligate, but cut us some slack: We were 20-something-year-old ski bums, living in squalid shacks; heat was our only real indulgence.

They say that all good things must end, and so it was for most all the wood stoves in Telluride. In the late 1980s, the EPA determined that the quantity of airborne particulates in close to 10,000-feet-high Telluride was higher than in downtown Denver. How could it be that a small mountain town sported dirtier air than an urban center? Geography and meteorology were to blame.

In Telluride's tight box canyon, temperature inversions would often set in and stay, trapping chimney smoke in the valley like a lid on a pot. So the town council tightened woodstove regulations, and then in 1996, it banned woodstoves altogether in any newly constructed house and mandated their removal upon the sale of any existing structure. After the real estate boom of the late 1990s and the churning home sales of the early 2000s, few stoves remained.

Today, I know of only a handful of houses within Telluride town limits that still burn wood.  The good news is that the regulations on stoves worked. A greasy gray cloud no longer blankets the town in winter, and Telluride's air quality is far better than it was 20 years ago.

The bad news is that there's no substitute for the heat of a woodstove. When I bought my house (and sadly removed the woodstove), I installed a free-standing gas stove, which poses as a wannabe woodstove in the living room. I'm warm enough, but it's not the same.

In the fall, I miss excursions into the woods with a chainsaw and the steady rhythm of splitting wood in the driveway. Stacking a good woodpile is perhaps the most gratifying weekend activity of all time, one that certainly confirms the old adage that "a woodstove warms you twice."

Getting ready for the cold -- scurrying about like a squirrel tucking away nuts -- is a harbinger of winter that can't be fulfilled by paying the gas bill. During the coldest and darkest days in December, I long for that familiar crackling heat from a woodstove, although then I pause and remind myself to savor Telluride's clean mountain air. I guess you can't have everything.

Lise Waring is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She lives in Telluride, Colorado, where she works for the town's tourism board.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) is seeking a dynamic community engagement assistant. The individual will work to identify and empower members, supporters, volunteers, and others...
  • VOICES OF WISDOM 2019 SOUTHWEST
    May 25 & 26 At the bank of the Colorado River, at Riverbend Park in Palisade, Colorado, the Sacred Fire Community in the Grand Valley...
  • PHILANTHROPY COORDINATOR
    Wyoming Wildlife Federation - collaborates with the Executive Director and staff to ensure the effective implementation of all philanthropic activities. https://wyomingwildlife.org/hiring-philanthropy-coordinator/.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    HawkWatch International is hiring an Executive Director to lead the organization. The next leader of this growing organization must have: 1. Enthusiasm for conservation, birds...
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Home Resource is a non-profit community sustainability center. We work with, in, and for the community to reduce waste and build a more vibrant and...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • BRN DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Borderlands Restoration Network 501c3 is hiring a full-time Development Director. Description and job details can be found at https://www.borderlandsrestoration.org/job-opportunities.html
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING MANAGER
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking an Environmental Planning Manager in the Natural Areas Department. The Department has an annual budget of approximately $13...
  • WEB DESIGN AND CONTENT MANAGER
    We are seeking an experienced designer to be the team lead for web development and digital media. Part creator and part planner, this person should...
  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
    at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • GRASSROOTS ORGANIZER
    The Utah Rivers Council is looking for an energetic individual with strong communication and organizing skills. The Grassroots Organizer works to ensure our campaigns are...
  • JOHN DEERE SNOW BLOWER 24"
    Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • STRAW BALE, ADOBE, TIMBER FRAME, HEALTHY HOME, NEAR LA VETA PASS, CO
    unique custom home in Sangre de Cristo Mountains of CO near La Veta Pass, 3 bed, 2 1/2 bath, private gated park, two hours from...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANIKSU LAND TRUST
    Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Flathead Lakers are seeking a dynamic, self-motivated and proven leader to be our next Executive Director (ED).
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Blackfoot Challenge, a renowned collaborative conservation org in MT, seeks our next ED.
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    10-day tour from Los Mochis airport, 2/nyts El Fuerte, train, 2/nyts canyon rim hotel, 5/nyts camping. 520-324-0209, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, ALASKA
    Earthjustice is hiring for a Staff Attorney