Friday, December 10, 2010

Keeping the Home Fires Burning

This morning it's 13 degrees in Birdland, and I can't get the fire started. I've been known to skimp on preparation, but this time I used everything I was taught about fires. I cleared out the ashes so the stove could breathe; I made sure the flue was open and the window slightly cracked to provide ventilation; I piled a generous handful of kindling over crumpled paper; I propped a split log over the kindling. It should have been a one match fire. It started enthusiastically enough, and I took my coffee back to my desk to work, confident that my soup would cook on the stovetop and the house would warm. I worked a little, then went out to the kitchen for a refill to find the stove quiet, no shadows of orange flames dancing behind the sooty glass face of the stove door. I tried again and again with more kindling and more paper, readjusting the log just a bit. Each time the kindling would catch, and I’d leave a merry blaze only to return fifteen minutes later to ashes—my soup barely warm, the room still cold.

This morning I have at least sixteen things to do before 2:00, and I’ve only managed to smear my hands with soot. I need a new plan. I decide to begin again and go out into the snow for fresh kindling. The wind bites my face and the snow squeaks under my feet. I see some twigs sticking out of a snowdrift and pull out a dry branch. I snap it into stove lengths as I walk back to the kitchen door, thinking about the snow. The cold has made it stony and a little cruel, but when it first fell a week ago it was lovely. I was out at the First Friday celebration in Monticello, making my way around the square with my friend. We each had a wine glass and had a little taste of wine, and maybe a bite of cheese from each shop. It was a festive evening as we visited from store to store, seeing friends from the community in a new context. We talked about travel with our sons' teachers, we discussed grandchildren and drank sparkling grape juice in a toy store. We’d step out into the night and be dusted with snow as we walked a few doors down. Bulky snowflakes would sift down on us, and it was just cold enough that they’d land on the sleeve of my fleece and stay whole for a while. I can’t get tired of examining a snow crystal: tiny, perfect three-dimensional worlds. I could get lost in them if they would stay long enough, but suddenly they melt and it’s time to go into the next shop.

Now I go back inside and begin again with my fire. I pull the charred logs out of the stove and lay them on the brick hearth. They are smoking slightly, so I hurry to crumple paper and pile kindling over it. I lay the logs over the kindling and reach for a match, but before I can strike it I see that the coals of my almost-fire have ignited the paper. I watch through the open stove door until the kindling catches. I shut the doors and go to wash the soot from my hands. I grab my coffee and sit in front of the stove. By now the kindling is crackling and I peek in to see that the logs have begun to burn. The heat warms my face and I sip my coffee and stir my soup. Sometimes a fire just likes to be watched.

Burn in Beauty; Watch in Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in community and the balance of work and life. She still has a few kittens who need homes.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one has had difficulty getting her fires started this fall. I thought maybe I'd lost my touch. Thankfully, though, Mary, I have a gas furnace and an electric water kettle to help get my mornings started. You amaze me, woman!