Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wood Words

by Brian Underwood
Wood Words
Say that three times real fast
My axe splits the wood into three roughly equal pieces. One I split in half; another I cut into six pieces and the smallest strip of kindling I carve down into curly shavings. I pile the larger pieces over the smaller tinder.
The dome of heaven is filled with stars stretching across the Milky Way and time. Out of the light-speckled sky comes an ancestral memory of some proto-Underwood starting the first manmade fire. This Prometheus--was he the first man to break with nature? He no longer needed nature to give him fire. He could now cook his food and put some warmth into the cold night air.
A single striking spark generates a burning ball, which ignites the larger kindles. I soon have my campfire going. I have enough fuel to cook a trout for dinner and put some warmth into the cold night air.
He could keep the beast from his sleep and for the first time he could relax and think. Sometimes he would burn a plant and the smoke would fill his lungs and mind and give him visions of gods.
With fire, he would survive the ice age. This fire would take him through Iron Age and the industrial revolution and to his final break with nature--the atom bomb--Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.* And now we, the sons and daughters of Prometheus, our machines are filling the sky with climate-changing carbon.
Were there people --once upon a time-- who lived with nature? They did not chop, cut, and burn; they lived with wood. They let the wood provide for them. What wood words did these nature’s children use?
The vocabularies we use to talk about our connection with nature use words of the present. Today our society relates to the world with a language that is consumptive. We cut, burn, market, advertise, sell, and buy. We build houses to hold the things we consume. We generate energy to power the machinery that consumes ever more resources.
However, the future is not written and when it is I do not know if any words that, we have in our language can be used. The words of the future will need to be words that require no definition, the same way that our wood words of today such as cut, split, and burn all have self-evident meanings. Words like sustainability or conservation can have different connotations. Permaculture is a made up word that requires an explanation.
We need a new language with new phonemes with sounds of peace and cooperation. Words, which have meanings other than--cutting and burning until nothing, is left. We need simple words that give rise to knowledge and awareness. The future must have a vocabulary of wisdom, which balances want with necessity. We must have poetry. We need expressions of art that reveal the beauty of the natural world and lexis of science that makes clear our place in nature. These words will write the future and nature’s children will sing these wood words.
*Robert Oppenheimer after the Trinity Explosion

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Upon the occasion of the retirement of Brain Underwood-Prometheus is Freed

The Charles Dickinson novel, “ Tale of Two Cities” starts with this line. “It was the best of times it was the worst of times.” Which could also start the story of my career at Martin Drake. I will remember the best of times and forget the coal dust and fly ash the heat the cold.

I will remember the times when operators-mechanics-electrician, I and C, mamagement, admin,building services, planning and stores all came together to solve a problems or those start-ups that went on without any problems and the breaker closing and load being dispatch when requested.

The bosses would tell you “ good job”.

I will remember those long nights when the machines would operate with without a hitch--we would arm our self against the siren of sleep with stories and even though we had told each other the same story a hundred times before, we all still listened because it a well told tale.

I will remember the funny hour--that time on those long nights usually around 4 o’clock in the morning of the fourth nightshift when--everything-- anybody said was funny and we world laugh and get through another shift.

I will remember people like Damon Dillinger and late Dave Horton because they were both such characters that I smile when I think of them.

My wife Diane and my son Reed will remember that I came home safe.

I will remembered summer nights--the plant being so un-godly hot I would go out on the roof to catch some cooling air. Seeing shinning lights across the city always inspired me. Those city lights spark and flash to the horizon because of the work you do here. Because of the power Martin Drake generates people are eating a hot meals. They are reading and writing, watching television and computing--they will be having parties, listening to music, singing and dancing. Babies being born and someone will be dying.

The design of a power plant is to burn coal to make steam to make electricity. The goal of all the men and women who work at Martin Drake is to bring light to the City of Colorado Springs. That is the important job that you all do

I thank the operators that I supervised in generating safe, clean economical electrical power, Tony Ott, Kevin Wilson, Frank Sisenros, Aaron Hodge and Chris Cox. I like to think that we did some good work towards that end, and if we did it was because of their hard work.

I will remember those who were with me during the best of times and those that stood by me in the worst of times. I will remember all of you warmly

After near 21 years working for Colorado Springs Utilities at Martin Drake (and other plants) I can say that the last two years have been the Best of Times.

Audios, good luck, Prometheus is freed

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mr.Green Jeans Sustainability Project

Mr.Green Jeans' Guide to Sustainable Living is a 25 page chapbook with meal recipes, cleaning formulas, methods and tools which will help you live a sustainable lifestyle. The book also contains environmental literature

The unique aspect of this project is that the chapbook is yours copyright free. By sending your return e-mail address I will send you and electronic copy –an Office 2007 file. After which you are free to add your own Ideas and Thoughts about Sustainable Living.

Add any vegetarian recipes, environmentally safe cleaning formulas, the best ways to recycle, repair and reuse, publish pictures or art work, essays, poems or any creative work about the environment.

Add your name to the list of Scriveners and your e-mail or website at the end. Then, using recycled paper, print out 10 copies. When you add copy it will change they layout. Remember that by adding one page of copy you will increase the book by four page. So you have plenty of room.

Once printed fold the pages into a booklet. Starting at the bottom, make a hole at 1 1/2 inches, at 4 1/4 inches and at 7 inches. Bind the book with a saddle stitch using hemp twine found at craft stores. From the outside of the spine thread into the booklet then out through the top hole. Then thread down the outside fold and back into the bottom hole. Then back out through the middle hole. Cut, tie and trim tag ends.

Give your books to family and friends or leave copies at a local freetrade coffee shop. The book is easily mailed with a 42-cent stamp. E-mail copies to your creative friends who would like to help spread a sustainable lifestyle. And please e-mail me a copy of your work.

To receive a copy--E-mail The Mr. Green Jeans Project --at

View--Mr. Green Jeans Guide to Sustainable Living



Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sundog Skills

Sundog skills are those skills that I have for working towards a more sustainable life. The skills of publishing chapbooks in a safe, clean and economical way. See my Instructables and blog

Nightshift--Power Plant

I truly believe in renewable energy. I have read a fair amount about this subject. The science is there. The technologies are good. There are alternative energies that can be of economic value to America. However something that we all should understand is that America is not going to get to that that Clean Carbon Free Hydrogen Economy without Grid Electrical Power. The energy we need to reach that future must come from somewhere—we are just going to have to burn a little more. This story is about burning coal.

Three hours left of a string of three night shifts. It had been a very long and uneventful night. What we called in the Navy, “Like sailing between the islands of boredom and tedium.” We could hear the rumble of the fire in the boilers and the whine of the turbines-- generating 220 megawatts of electricity-- white noise-- a siren of sleep. Three more hours and we would make it out alive.

We were all in the control room save Aaron. He was out emptying his oil buckets. We sat around quietly talking, trying to stay awake, Tony’s eyes going closed and opening, staying closed a little longer each time. Joe was talking simultaneously about his daughter, his past and present female relationships, why we can’t get enough air in the boiler, Denver Bronco football and his daughter. Frank was listening.

Jim and I were in our regular quiet little discussion about creationism and evolution with me losing to Christianity. No matter how much I told him of the geological evidence, I could not dissuade his deeply held beliefs in a 6,000-year-old earth. God bless America.

The discussion had moved to the division between church and state. I was about ready to quote--as best I could--from a Jefferson letter to those Baptist fellows. Tony’s eyes had been closed for three minutes. Joe had not stopped talking--Frank was still listening. God bless his soul.


Tony’s eyes opened up like a roller blind in a Saturday morning cartoon show and in his Alabama way of saying things, “That’s not very good.”

“What is it?”

“Lost flow on B Feeder.”


“We‘re on our way, boss.”

“So put some fire to it, boys. Jim, we can’t lose more than three megawatts.”

Tony took the fire by the hand and added fuel. “Got all the igniters in, boss.”

“You boys know what you’re doing –I’m going out to the feeder. “
“Remember, no more than three.”

Out at the feeder, the PSO’s-- these Prometheus men-- had an air lance in the feeder’s throat. They were in a shower of coal, the black rain filling their ears and shirt pockets. I had to yell above the staccato rapping of the coal pipe vibrators.

“What we got going? “

“Wet coal.” Frank put a ball of coal in my hand for inspection.

Wet coal. Operating a power plant is hard work-- it’s harder when it rains.

Joe, looking into the feeder, “We got coal back!”

“Let the control room know.”
“You got coal flow back, Tony!”

“Aye, aye. “

Back in the control room, boiler pressure was going up and the drum level was dropping. Tony already had the boiler master backed down and was pulling out fuel. Jim had taught him well. In three minutes he had the boiler back in auto.

“How many megawatts did we lose?”

“Brian! We did not lose a single one-- maybe 300 kilowatts-- if that.”

“Yeah, inertia and some damn good are firing.”

“Yeah, inertia.”

Two hours and 45 minutes left of three long and uneventful night shifts. The sleep we wished for so devoutly will not come so easily now.