Still the Same
My dear, very old aunt Tigger, clutched both my hands and hauled herself up in her hospital bed so she could pull herself closer to scan my face. Satisfied, she whispered “Still the same,” as if that was all that needed to be said, as if it was high praise indeed.
In those days I wasn’t sure how to take her words. Sameness felt stagnant, boring. But now, when there have been too many losses, too many last goodbyes, in my later years I too prize constancy.
So now I take my happiness from dailiness. This morning it is the everyday ritual of bringing my wood fire to life from the small coals embedded in last night’s ashes. This is a pleasure (and occasionally, if the wind blows from the north, a struggle, which I plan to keep going as long as I can.)
The first fire of the year. The last fire. It all has meaning to me. My traditions go back to Girl Guide days when we had to know how to lay and light fires five different ways, a challenge far harder outdoors than in my fine cast iron wood stove with its excellent draft. Nowadays my method is simple, a combination of what Barry and I were taught by local farmers and what we figured out worked well for us. Although I used to take pride in all the steps, the stacking wood outdoors so the piles balanced well, considering the individual pieces, the trees which they had come from, oak, beech, occasionally yellow birch, the nightly tramping up the stairs at twilight, living the sunsets while adding to the pile waiting ready by my stove.
As in many aspects of my life now, it actually takes the gift of many hands to keep me going. Part of me minds my failing independence, but, if I stop to look at it in a better way, I often feel surrounded by gifts, by care.
There is Eric presenting me with a huge box of well-split kindling, which will last me the winter. “It makes me happy to do it for you,” he says, making a present of it for me. Or there is Alfred, faithfully bringing in my wood and stacking it, so that having a fire will be easier for me to sustain. And after he has split a few pieces smaller to help the kindling catch, he lingers to talk with me about what has inspired us over the week, and with his magnificent voice possibly to say one of the Wendell Berry poems which he has memorized.
This morning, I gather up a handful of the small split pieces, and snug them over the coals. Then I turn to the smaller wood, choose a couple of likely dry logs and lay them north south “always north-south to catch faster”. In 20 minutes, when my cats are fed and my breakfast is cooking, I’ll slip back into the living room to add several large, heavy blocks onto the blazing roar, this time going east-west, creating a heat which will be a pleasure and a comfort which will last until late afternoon. I will screech the door tight, close the damper, and feel the glowing warmth on my back.
But most of all, wood fires are for solitary winter nights, when the rising stars blaze through my uncurtained windows while I muse, staring at the dancing flames.
Still the same.