Fighting Fire

By , September 21, 2013

Every autumn I face a period of internal struggle, deciding when to start using the wood stove to heat the cabin.

My head tells me to start lighting fires when the house grows too cold for optimum comfort, or the weather becomes so wet that rain gear won’t dry between uses. My heart tells me that all of this might be avoided one more day for the sake of preserving that wood pile I worked so hard to assemble!

This year, it’s even worse. I delayed firewood harvesting last spring, and didn’t devote a lot of time to it over the summer. Now, with the rainy season upon us, I still have a ways to go before I fill the wood shed. It’s not a crisis. I figure 3 or 4 small trees, less than 6″ circumferance at the base, will top off the pile. A day or two of steady work will accomplish this; ensuring that it dries properly may be more problematic (see Waiting on Weather).

This has made me put off building a fire this past week, even as the weather turns decidedly cooler and definitely wetter.

cat by the wood stove

Spice, at her happiest (Photo: Aly Zeiger).

Most of the week, when Michelle works in town, it’s just me and the cat at home during the day. Spice always wants a fire. I like a cooler room generally speaking, and I have plenty of favorite sweaters, hoodies, heavy shirts, and other warm clothes to layer on if I’m cold. Or, much more appropriate to the situation at hand, I can always go outside and spend a few hours cutting firewood. That leaves me overheated; making a fire becomes the last thing on my mind.

Thursday, however, I lost the fight. I made the first wood stove fire of the autumn.

I made sure I wiped the stove down, to remove or reduce the accumulated dust, spills, and other substances that didn’t need to bake. I laid a small fire, and let the kindling burn for a long time before adding more wood. Our cast iron stove will last longer if we avoid moving quickly from cold metal to hot. Besides, if I spent the morning debating the need for a fire, I certainly didn’t need a roaring, high heat fire that day.

I loved the results. The house warmed steadily and pleasantly, removing the cold edge. The cabin always feels like a home, but never more so than when there’s a proper fire in the wood stove, its generous, comforting heart.

Even better, I remembered, as I must every autumn, that lighting that first fire does not mean we’ll want a fire every day after that. We’ll ease into this season as we do all the others. Eventually, we’ll have a fire every day, and I do look forward to that—the ritualistic tending of the stove, the constant availability of a heating surface for water and meals—but it’s still in the future. Probably—hopefully—sometime after I get those last few trees in.

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