You can’t stuff a stocking with chainsaw fuel, can you? |

You can’t stuff a stocking with chainsaw fuel, can you?

Merrily Talbott

It’s in my genes, like birds heeding the instinct to fly south for the winter; a mysterious force possesses me every December, luring me to, where else? The mall.

But reject these instincts I must, for no Christmas gift would disgust my environmental extremist husband more than something from J.C. Penney. I love my husband and want to get him something he’ll like. Surely, countless women across the West are in the same predicament – what to get the man who wants nothing?

It’s time to get creative and make a list of possibilities: An energy-efficient washing machine. My husband, Dave, currently does his laundry about twice a year. Every six months or so, he trudges off to the town laundromat. His loads of socks probably make even the proprietors of Paonia Cleaners – where the local coal miners bring their work clothes to be washed – recoil in horror.

He seems to think the rainwater collection system in our off-the-grid house we built ourselves can support a real washing machine. After looking into it, I discover that the cost of one of these things surpasses our net income for the year.

How about a clothes-drying rack? Looking out the window, I see his last load of laundry hanging outside on the clothes line. Ah, the smell and feel of fresh laundry dried in the sun! But the temperature has hovered around freezing for the last few days, and his clothes are as soft as melba toast.

After a few hours of Internet research, I discover that the cheapest drying rack I can find is $50. Wal-Mart might have one for less, but let’s not go there. Literally.

I could knit him a hat. His cute, balding head is protected from the cold only by a ring of short, dark, scraggly hair that looks a lot like the tufts of wild rice grass he’s been trying to reintroduce on our land.

The house we’ve built using mostly recycled materials is theoretically supposed to stay warm in the winter. The 3-foot-wide north wall, which I affectionately call “the landfill,” contains a few old refrigerators and other defunct

appliances and is supposed to provide “thermal mass.” It’s our first winter in the house, and I’m realizing that we could have refrigerators insulating every wall and it still wouldn’t keep the house warm.

To be comfortable in our house, you’ve got to wear a hat. But really, who needs comfort? Besides, I don’t know how to knit.

There’s always the old stand-by: underwear. I’ve had success before in finding boxer shorts of various designs at thrift shops across the West. This year for his birthday I hit a gold mine at the Salvation Army: 12 pairs of briefs – tighty whities – size 40. They looked slightly big for his little behind, but at $1 a pair I couldn’t resist.

Inspired by a comic I’d read in the Funny Times, I used fabric markers to write across the butt of each pair: January, February, March, etc. Who says women should be the only ones with underwear for different days? I arranged them nicely in a discarded plastic box and made a label that read, “Men’s Pack O’ Twelve.” But September’s pair was the only size 34, and perhaps he’s been wearing them ever since.

On second thought, maybe we should take a holiday off from the underwear gift idea.

Chainsaw fuel. Now, it’s not what you’re thinking. He’s an extremist only in how he lives — he’d never sabotage anything. But he does enjoy chainsawing trees, as he firmly believes junipers in the wrong place need to be cut down. They are, after all, almost an invasive species, not to mention that they make great firewood. And there’s always the forest-fire argument.

But, buying petroleum products makes him feel as guilty as a Catholic priest from Boston, though if I buy it for him, it could be a great gift. Yet, something about a 5-gallon jug of chainsaw fuel sitting under the Christmas tree doesn’t fit my nostalgic image of a Norman Rockwell Christmas morning.

Well, I never thought I’d live in a house made out of refrigerators either, or be married to a handsome, intelligent, sensitive new-age guy who also happens to be an environmental extremist.

I guess I’ll go with the chainsaw fuel. Maybe with more fuel, we’ll get more firewood, have bigger fires in the woodstove and maybe, just maybe, be a little warmer this Christmas. What’s the point in giving a gift if you can’t find something in it for yourself?

Merrily Talbott is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( in Paonia, Colorado, where she lives and writes.

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