The Comfort of Fire
Fire’s Burning, Fire’s Burning,
Draw nearer, draw nearer.
In the gloaming, in the gloaming.
Come sing and be merry.
(Girl Guides’ Song)
Although I always longed to heat my house with wood, it wasn’t until we moved to Singing Meadow that this was possible. Eighteen years ago we believed this also was an environmental choice, although sadly I know better now.
All the same, I will never forget the thrill of watching our wood stove be installed in our new home and the great pleasure of living with wood ever since. Although some complain about the mess and dust, both of which are true, few will deny the quality of its warm. This is a special kind of heat which indeed invites one to gather, just as I used to in the long ago days of Girl Guide campfires.
Now in my late seventies I know only too well that my days of savouring this pleasure are numbered, so it means more than ever to feel the warmth which sinks into my bones, and to watch the ever-varying dancing flames. Nothing is more pleasing than to invite friends to come and sit with me within its charmed circle.
I have always prided myself in stacking a long pile to cure, feeling thankful to have the security of winter’s heat laid by. However, there is more to this than you might think. Early on I learned the hard way how tricky it is to choose and balance pieces that fit together and are unlikely fall in a heap. But this summer, something special happened. My friend Alfred, who helps me with chores and reads me poems, offered to stack my wood for me, and what he wanted was to make me a “German Pile” This turned into an Andy Goldsworthy type feature, which has given me happiness ever since the day he sized up this year’s wood dump and set to work. Unlike other years, when I had made a long pile of wood behind the house, Alfred made a work of art.
There is a flow, but also a science to building a fire and keeping it going: the kindling first, laid north-south to catch faster, topped cross-wise with a few of the smallest pieces I can find. Leave lots of air spaces at first, maybe even briefly crack a window if the wind is north. Eye what wood is in my indoor pile, choose and heft a few bigger pieces and cram them in above the rising flames. Inevitably I am saddened to encounter a piece of lovely curly-barked yellow birch, or the smooth, silver-grey bark of my childhood friend, the American Beech. But then I thank them, as I do all the wood in my pile for giving me heat. Then I shut the door firmly and through the window I watch the fire take over.
Inevitably, as I go about my day, there are discouraging reminders of things I can no longer do. But working with my fire I am mindful to “engage my core” and it greatly pleases me to find that I still am able to heft blocks of wood and warm my home.
How I wish I could invite you to “draw nearer” with me.