Having been a city dweller most of my life, for me fuel delivery was never an issue. It was just there on a need-to-have basis. For a spoiled westerner, fuel for heat, hot water and cooking appeared magically from a pipe in the street. When natural gas arrived on the scene for central heating in the early 20th century, I can recall my grandparents talking about how nervous people were to have it piped into their homes and it took some convincing for them to welcome it. A hundred years later, it is a fact of life, and people are asking for more of it to be harvested. More and more, invisible energy to keep us in the style to which we have become accustomed.
Recently I have decided to chuck the annoyances and unpleasantries (I mean, how much are we supposed to put up with for the ideal of convenience?) of the city and go to a more natural, rural area. In this new environment, one detail that strikes home right away is that you are now responsible for storing your own fuel. What an instant lesson in energy usage; you can get it but not easily, and in getting it, you have to keep it on hand on your property in a tank – a hulking, sometimes rusty container about the size of a buffalo. Well sure, you pay for it either way and if you don’t pay, you don’t have heat. But your consciousness about fuel just increased to the tenth power by having to confront this tank on a daily basis. The alternatives for energy are similar whether urban or rural, except that if you go with gas in the country it comes in a bottle, not a pipe.
At first, it seems like an inconvenience, having a behemoth storage tank in your yard. Shouldn’t it be out of sight/out of mind like it was before? As much as I don’t like looking at it, it acts like Jiminy Cricket on our shoulder, whispering in our ear about our dependence and our usage. It keeps things real, making a large physical statement about energy consumption. You can monitor the gauge, you can lower the thermostat, you can try an alternative, like burning wood. A number of the neighbors do all of these things to reduce consumption, but the fact remains that we need heat.
However, maybe not as wastefully as when we don’t see it. I am thinking of a single apartment building in New York City that takes up an entire block. My brother lives in this particular building, and it has a power plant in the basement that cranks heat up to a point where the tenants open their windows in the winter because it is unbearably hot inside.
As careful as I have always been with energy use, I think that a fuel tank is going to be a constant reminder. Fill it up, empty it out. It is there, regardless. The process is exposed, and you are witness and victim and perpetrator. In this instance it is a placeness of consciousness, of awareness, of a presence of something that looks so out of place but is born of necessity for survival. Use it sparingly, keep it filled up like a family member but don’t overfeed, and let its appearance in the landscape keep us aware of our dependencies and our greed and the fact that this vessel is a solid object informing us that sources of energy are not limitless. And we are responsible for limits.