May is the month our family commits to buying the six to eight cords of wood we burn every winter as our main source of fuel. We use oil as a backup.
Good friends of ours have had solar panels for about a decade now, and I understand that prices keep coming down. We are keeping close track of the local community solar projects. The NY-Sun program, which promises a transition to a sustainable, self-sufficient solar future without upfront costs or participation fees, is providing a promising path to the future.
But not right now. Burning the least efficient fuel source except for peat has been embedded in our lifestyle for half a century. I enjoy sitting a few feet from the wood stove in the living room too much to give it up.
The heating season is pretty much over by now, and the price of wood is as low as it’s going to get. The fact we can be depended upon to pay cash on delivery has proven a useful asset in our annual negotiations with one or more wood folks. They know we expect full cords of various hardwoods.
Our wood guy delivered the first two cords this month. In his words, it had been cut little-old-lady-sized. The pieces weren’t heavy.
Mostly oak, the wood had aged some, so the pieces hadn’t been cut the day before. Since the emerald ash borer had killed the local ash a few years ago, a lot of ash wood is available. Ash burns hot, but not as efficiently as some other hardwoods.
We had been happy to make this year’s deal with our main man for some previous years. He disappointed us last year by agreeing to $225 a cord and then hiking the price to $250 in early winter. Fortunately, we were able to find someone who had just cleared a woodlot and had a limited amount he was willing to sell at $200 a cord.
A very impressive exhibit of canal-era artifacts had a soft opening at the D&H Canal Museum at the 1797 DePuy Canal House in High Falls this past weekend. It too was centered on fuel, in this case eastern Pennsylvania anthracite coal. Until its discovery, the United States was dependent on importing bituminous coal from Virginia or Great Britain.
Anthracite versus bituminous coal? That’s a little like the difference between burning oak versus burning ash. Anthracite coal burns hotter and longer than bituminous coal, meaning that in the long term it’s a more cost-effective solution. It also burns much cleaner.
First fully opened in 1829, the D&H’s main business was transporting coal. It received coal laboriously transported from the Carbondale mines 17 miles by primitive gravity railroad across the Hoosic Mountains to Honesdale, where it would begin its 108-mile canal journey to Rondout, where most of the cargo would be transferred to larger barges and shipped down the Hudson River. It would take five days for the coal-filled barges pulled by mules or horses to travel the length of the D&H.
Times have changed. Today, you can buy anthracite coal for about two dollars a pound on Amazon Prime and get free delivery.
Nowadays, a passenger can catch a Short Line bus at the Port Authority station and arrive in Honesdale two hours and 45 minutes later.
Like today, when the exits of limited-access highways tend to attract other businesses, the hamlet of High Falls had other businesses. It was an attractive source of water power, and millers were drawn to it from colonial times.
High Falls takes its name from where the Rondout Creek cuts through a large rock formation and goes over a sizeable waterfall.
The D&H Canal crossed the Rondout Creek on a large aqueduct John Roebling designed, which burned down in the early twentieth century. Only its abutments remain, High Falls also boasts the relics of five of the 108 locks on the canal. A Five Locks Walk is available.
Natural cement was discovered in next-door Rosendale during the canal’s construction.
The conjunction of early industrial uses transformed the hamlet of High Falls from an isolated rural community to a bustling small town, especially after the canal was expanded in 1850.
The canal ceased operations in 1899.
The D&H Canal Museum in the DePuy Canal House has done a creditable job combining different elements of interest to the visitor, from a concierge service that highlights the region’s attractions by both category and location to ingenious exhibitry explaining the rich history of High Falls. My favorite room, however, was a simple one with period furniture and decorative trim. It’ll make a great space for parties and other special occasions, said museum president Peter Bienstock.