Wed, May 15, 2024

Burning time in the wood stove

In October, 45 degrees feels like a reason to start a fire in the woodstove. Less so in January, when 45 degrees feels unseasonably mild.

Still, there’s something disheartening about a cold woodstove, as if it were a conduit for cold air and bad spirits. So I light it, for the warmth, for the light, for the company, so that when I go outside there will be that burgee of smoke blowing from the chimney.

Watching the fire, I think sometimes about two terrifying rooms in the Iowa farmhouse where my dad grew up. One was the coal room for the furnace, the other the cob room for the kitchen cookstove. When I first saw them, both had been antiquated by oil and electricity. The coal room had a darkness that the eye couldn’t penetrate. Next door, the cobs had settled into a heap that hadn’t been disturbed in years. I can’t say what frightened me, unless it was a glimpse into an abandoned way of living.

I think of it now because when I light the woodstove, I realize that I am burning time. Handling the split logs, I notice their straightness or their irregularities. But when I feed them into the woodstove, I get one last, end-on glimpse of their tree rings. It’s like feeding chapters of a biological chronicle into the fire one by one. Some of the logs are older than the memory of that Iowa farmhouse.

I have neighbors who make an art of their woodpiles and kindling. I used to think that one day I’d make a round Swedish woodpile, roofed with bark. What I have instead is a large, well-kept pile of things I used to think I’d do one day. It never rots. The chipmunks never nest in it. Now and then, I actually do one of those things I thought I’d do one day. As it happens, sitting by the woodstove, burning time, is one of them.

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Author: Rick Eudaley, Copperfield Chimney Supply Inc.
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