After more than a week without a working boiler, a warrantied replacement was finally up and running in the basement. This latest technician had been assigned to figure out why our boiler — with an expected 20-year lifespan — had conked out for the second time since it was installed six years ago.
He affectionately patted the mostly cold radiator in the kitchen, before explaining: “Thirty years ago, we forgot how these babies worked. Most of the people who made them died probably 50 years ago. We’ve lost all that know-how. Today, you have to study them in books.”
The nostalgia was palpable in the room as our boiler’s new best friend spoke of how efficient and simple steam systems once were. “All you need to make them happy is a 3-foot pipe wrench and a level.”
“So, what I’m going to do,” he said, “is just fire her up, get her nice and hot and try to see what’s going on.”
Before he set to work, he told us that the problems we’ve been experiencing likely stem from successive modifications made in recent decades to accommodate modern equipment. The best thing to do would be to re-set the system as best we can.
As he spoke, I couldn’t help but see parallels to gardening and growing food. There was a time when people possessed vast stores of knowledge about edible plants — what and when and where and how and why to grow a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables and herbs. From sowing to harvesting and preserving, we knew what to do to keep our plates and bellies full.
The processes were simple and efficient — like a steam heating system.
But, today, there are very few who know what was once so common. We have to re-teach ourselves from books and workshops and online message boards.
Sometime in the 20th century, in our pursuit of modern conveniences, we lost something precious. Fast food in all its aspects — processed and microwaved and delivered and handed out a drive-up window — may be quick and easy, but it’s no longer simple and efficient.
Simple is poking a seed in the ground and months later, pulling up a carrot.
Efficient is that same tiny seed — with regular intervals of rain and sunlight — morphing into a mighty fern-leafed plant sporting an 8-inch, carotene-laden root that’s delicious and nutritious.
It’s fascinating. And I love it.