Tending The Fire

It’s a beautiful achievement when the most gratifying part of everyday is

coming home to a still smoldering fire. Add a few kindling sticks, open the flue, give it time to catch, add bigger logs, let them catch, close the flue three quarters. Keep an eye on it.

You’ll hear the sap crackle out of the corner of your ear.

You won’t be thinking about it but in an hour and a half or so you’ll go to the porch for another couple logs. The pile by the door is getting low; you moan at the thought of trekking to the woodshed, just out reach of the porch light halo.

The dark is inky and the cold is hard.

You gather the last porch rounds into your arms and stuff the furnace.

You know the routine; everyone does. It’s mindless.

Once I was staying at a big hollow house by myself in December. During the holidays. The snow was so deep the dog porpoise-d through it on our walks. It was never light out. I slid out of bed shivering and sleepy, loaded the furnace with wood and opened the flue further than it was supposed to go.

The fire roared.

I made porridge and thick, strong coffee. I drank it black and bitter as I slurped the oatmeal, standing up in the dark, cold kitchen. I could hear the fire in the other room. I had my toothbrush in my pocket; commuting is for brushing teeth. I opened the fire to add another log, and a lick of purple flame shot out, into my face and up the chimney.

A dragon belched on me, but I remained calm. I shut the door and closed the flue. I smelled like burnt hair when I got to work. In the bathroom I saw coal streaks on my cheeks.

The fire was smoldering when I arrived home, in the dark, nine hours later.

I added a few sticks of kindling and opened the flue.

It’s never as bad as you think, venturing to the woodshed; that’s when you accidentally look up and catch the northern lights that dance when you whistle.

You fill the bent-tired wheel barrel and drag it backwards to the porch. You don’t need to but you make two more trips. The pile by the door teeters high.

You go back to the woodshed and straighten the chopping block, clear it of snow. You pick a round, steady it on the block and lift the axe high. It isn’t satisfying; the knotty northern trees don’t split easily.

You sweat as you hack away, and reminisce about growing up in the rich land south of here, home of the western red cedar tree, majestic, smooth grained, easy burning. A fire starter.

Splitting Yukon fir may be more gratifying, in the end. You chop enough to fill your arms and walk blindly back inside. You’re too hot; you strip down to a t shirt. You place the kindling heap close to the furnace, and sweep up the woodchips on the floor.

You smell like trees when you climb into bed. You sleep well, but wake up to throw a log on in the middle of the dark night.

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