When I mention that my only source of heat is a wood burning stove, people usually raise their eyebrows in surprise. Sometimes they recoil in distaste and say something to the effect of, “That’s horrible! You shouldn’t have to do that!” I’ve thought about it a lot and have decided, “Why shouldn’t I have to build a fire everyday for warmth?” Until about 70 years ago, everyone had to build a fire for warmth. People have been building fires for warmth since we figured out we could. It’s true, if I opened my mail one day to receive a Publisher’s Clearinghouse letter that congratulated me on winning a central heating system for my home, I wouldn’t turn it down. Until then the wood burning stove will continue to occupy a lot of my time and energy. But I’m ok with it. In fact, I kind of like it.
This morning, when I got up, there was a cold bite in the air. The first thing I did (after putting on my slippers) was to shuffle over to the stove, stir the coals, and put a few sticks on the nearly dead fire. I had considered going to the gym as I had the day off work, but instead ended up playing pioneer woman. A week-long storm was in the forecast and I needed to make sure my firewood situation was secure. I was nearly out of kindling and no one sells it anymore. But, I live in the woods and we’d had a wind storm the week prior leaving lots of down branches. I emailed my landlord asking if I could borrow his chainsaw (not that I know how to use one, but I could figure it out…). While online, I saw an ad from Next Door; someone in the area had a load of bone dry fir kindling to get rid of. I sent back a note of interest. I drained the remainder of my coffee, put on my firewood jacket (yes, that’s a thing), and stomped outside, my breath puffing grey in the cold morning air. I clambered up the hillside dragging the fallen branches down to make a pile next to the garage. If I could get ahold of my landlord’s chainsaw, this would make a fine bunch of kindling.
I had to drive into town for an appointment and while I was out and about, I received a text from the fir kindling man to meet him in the Starbucks parking lot in 15 minutes. As we transferred the boxes from his pick up to my car, I realized that the kindling was left over bits from a construction project, not the pieces of firewood I had envisioned. Well, no matter, you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. The man told me he’d had to stop burning firewood due to his asthma. I mentioned that I had to burn firewood as it was my only source of heat and predictably, his eye brows shot up in surprise. He said he’d be happy to sell me what was left of his oak since he couldn’t burn it anymore, but warned me he had seen the occasional bark beetle in the wood. He then launched into a long-winded expose on bark beetles. See the delightful interactions I would have missed out on if not for firewood? I got to meet a neighbor and learn something new about bark beetles. I actually rather enjoyed it.
When I got home, the kindling fairy had visited! The pile of saplings and tree branches I had piled up next to the garage had been handily transformed into 14″ pieces of burn-able wood. An unexpected act of kindness from my landlord. Now to deal with the boxes of construction wood. My neighbor drove by and offered to lend me a hatchet. I quickly surmised that the redwood duff was too springy for kindling splitting-the wood wouldn’t balance and when I did manage to hit it with the hatchet, everything just bounced. It seemed possible to lose a finger or a toe this way. I moved the operation to the cement pad of my bottom step. Now we’re talking. Balance the wood on end, take a wide stance, keep your eye on the ball, and whack! About 20 minutes in, I stood up to ease my back. Up through the trees, the clouds were gathering in the sky, a squirrel chirrup-ed, the smell of wood smoke drifted down from my chimney. My neighbor mosied over to check on my progress and I got to say, “Storm’s a brewin’.” I always wanted to say that. He had been unaware and was grateful to know. He left to go batten down the hatches at his house.
Mostly, we live in a world where the weather doesn’t matter. We go from our climate controlled homes, to our noise insulated cars, and drive on smoothly paved roads, with phones to alert us to traffic potential and alternate routes, to jobs where information is magically whisked via computer down the hall or halfway around the world. We don’t have to be aware of nature, for the most part. And so we aren’t.
While it’s true that it would be easier and more convenient to live in town, I prefer my roughshod road, my cabin with the wood burning stove and lack of TV or cell reception. There’s something about neighbors helping each other out, passing on information about the weather or the state of the road that seems so old-fashioned. Beyond old-fashioned, it’s something our lives used to depend on, something humans did forever until just recently. And while our lives don’t depend on it anymore, it feels good. It makes me feel connected to the people around me. Moving the wood inside before the rains start makes me feel connected to place. I live in nature and am affected by it. Building a fire for warmth makes me feel more…animal? More human? Well, I guess, more like another creature that simply lives in her environment. More like I belong.
Later tonight, when the first raindrops start to tap at the windows, I will sit in front of my crackling fire and heave a deep sigh of great contentment. This morning I needed kindling. Ask and ye shall receive. Thank you landlord, thank you neighbor, thank you Next Door stranger. My cup now overfloweth with kindling.