Can Burning Wood Really Be Environmentally Friendly?

When I was a young girl (I'll be showing my age now) we heated our home using a wood-burning stove.

It sounds archaic now: the notion of throwing logs into a metal hole so that the whole house can be warmed, but it's what we did for the entirety of my childhood.

This never occurred to me as something out of the ordinary until I went round to visit friends' houses. When we played in their back garden I noticed that they didn't have a chopping block, there were no wood reserves stored in the yard and no axes readily to hand. What were these people, savages?! Of course these people weren't living in a Victorian farmhouse, they were living in modern homes heated by gas. They didn't rely on the fierce heat of burning logs to cook their food or heat their water, they simply pressed a few buttons on a box and the house was heated. They switched on the hob and fire would appear. 'What luxury!', I remember thinking at the time. By the time I left home for University, I was already starting to form an idea of what living environmentally friendly meant and I was relatively certain that it didn't entail throwing endless kilos of logs into a fiery inferno on a daily basis. By the time I returned from University, fired up from my environmental lectures undertaken during my Geography degree, I was prepared to make my grievances with my parents' antiquated style of living. That was until I noticed that the wood stock had been replaced by a compost heap. The collections of axes had found their way onto the walls of the house and seemed to be taking a more decorative approach to life. Lastly, I wasn't greeted by a roaring fire on my arrival - a central heating system had been installed. My Father greeted me with a smug look on his face. He had left me in the dark intentionally to take the wind from my sails - a classic move. I could tell at the time that he could barely contain his eagerness to show off his new contraption. In the back of the house, a warm glow lit the utility room and large hemp sacks crowded periphery. My parents were still burning wood - just not like they used to. They'd replaced the faithful old wood-burning stove with a fuel efficient wood-pellet burner that heated the water and provided heating for the entire house, delivered through the recently installed system. But how was burning wood-pellets any better than big old logs? My Father rolled his eyes, clearly unimpressed with the level of education that three years of University lectures had provided me. He explained that the wood fuel he purchased from Liverpool Wood Pellets was sourced from farms that used Short Coppice Rotation to efficiently grow and harvest wood with zero-impact on the environment. Since installing their wood-pellet stove and starting up their compost heap, by parents have taken more interest in living an environmentally friendly lifestyle. They had always felt like I disapproved of their archaic lifestyle. After I graduated, they'd started changing their ways in a bid to appease my, now absent, grumblings.

What started out as the petulant complaints of a teenager turned into my very first Geography lesson. The change that they made over that summer - convinced me that teaching was the right path for me.

Engaging With Environmental Issues At Home

Before I went to University to begin my studies in Geography, I owned a small gardening business.

Gardening is a peculiar past time.

For some it is a necessary chore; the weeding of a drive, the mowing of a lawn, these monotonous activities need to be done in order to keep one's garden looking presentable, therefore conforming to the accepted norm. For others (me included!), it's a joy that gives them endless hours of pottering around and fresh air. Each project that we take on is one that will stand the test of time, each seed we plant, an investment in the future. Although the work started out as relatively simple, small jobs, weeding gardens and planting flower beds, soon I was asked to bring to life my clients' dream gardens to life and do it all in an environmentally friendly way. You might assume that this would be a relatively easy job to perform, you'd be surprised at how demanding clients can be and how hard it can be to keep your carbon footprint small - even when you're working on the smallest of back gardens. Responding to these requests required ingenuity and a great deal of research. Although large scale garden transformations might have been all the rage back in the 90s, the modern homeowner does not look as kindly on concrete pathways, dodgy water features and wooden decking as it once did. As a result, the onus was on me to devise and source environmentally solutions to my clients' demands.

Thankfully, I was given a relatively free rein, in regards to how I got my work done. I could therefore take some interesting routes to solving my problem.

Say, for example, that my client wanted 'natural looking' garden furniture - an alternative to the plastic and glass monstrosities that you so often see being sold at B&Q and Homebase. My solution to this? Upcycle timber packing cases from an online seller and re-shape the boxes into affordable, beautiful outside furniture. Although the gaudy fountains and ugly faux-concrete ornaments firmly belonged in the past, clients still wanted some kind of water feature in their back gardens. Flat-out refusing anything approximating one of those God awful pre-moulded plastic ponds, I instead opted for a natural, eco-friendly option. Although more labour intensive, this method allowed me to be more creative with my designs as well as further protect the environment.

Of course the go-to option that I recommended each and every one of my clients was a compost heap.

Most people might not like the idea of a stinking pile of garbage in their back garden, but using more of those handy timber packing cases I found ways of constructing and hiding these compulsory garden staples and allowing my clients' to successfully reduce their waste. I was fortunate enough to be paid to do something I enjoy for the 6 years that I ran my business, this was my first foray into independent enterprise.

Through my gardening, I gained the passion and motivation to pursue my career as a teacher.

Memories of South Korea: Before We Had Windows

There was a time when I lived in a house without windows...

I'm slightly older than my fellow writers here at the Geography Collective, as such I'm given a little leeway in regards to my indulgences in nostalgia.

My journey from rural Pyeongchang, South Korea to the urban sprawl of Manchester here in the UK is one that never ceases to amaze the new people I meet. My Mother met and married my step-father, a British man visiting the country for business back in 1979. My biological Father, an inveterate drinker and gambler, had long since abandoned my Mother and I, leaving us to fend for ourselves in what was a rather harsh financial climate. Thankfully, the local community were kind to us, giving us food when we needed it and providing me with clothes when I needed them. The mists of the past often cloud the smallest of details, which only deign to reveal themselves after the mind is brought to attention by a stimulus of the present day. Such an instance presented itself just the other day. It all started with something relatively mundane. Recently, my wife and I decided that we needed to replace our windows. For nearly a decade, we'd been living with single glazing, leading to the cold of the England's North continually sucking all the heat from our little terraced home. The team at Allerton Windows promised me that they could replace all our shoddy single panes with strong double glazing within a day. I stayed at home on the day that they were due to visit, whilst my wife escaped to a friend's house. The men arrived and the old windows were duly removed, leaving the house open to the elements. I had work to complete at home, so I sat in my study wrapped up in a jacket, leaning over my students' exercise books. As my breath appeared before my eyes, with the bright white light of an overcast day poring through the open window, my mind was transported back to Pyeongchang in the 1970s. The 70s were a turbulent time for South Korea - I grew up in a time book-ended by student protests, military coups and assassinations. For a young boy, living in the rural scrub of the countryside, these political issues were the barely audible whispers of conflict. Such noises were drowned out by our wireless radio. This little box forever played our country's approximation of Folk music - which was growing increasingly popular amongst women my Mother's age, due to the impact that American culture had on the country's tastes following the war in the fifties. In those days, our traditional Korean home was fast becoming obsolete. During the balmy summers, the open windows were a relief, allowing a breeze to flow through our small two-room home, but in the dead of winter they were a curse. If my Mother closed the shutters I'd be left in darkness with no light to study by, so she left them open. We wrapped up warm and the fog and mist, that collected off the nearby paddy fields, drifted lazily through our small home, as I struggled over algebra problems and my Mother sung along to covers of Simon & Garfunkel.

The men finished their work on time and my wife returned to a house that was finally warm from top to bottom. She found me asleep that afternoon, in my dimly lit office with my head resting on my students' work, 'The Sound of Silence' playing on the radio.