Sunday, December 16, 2012

Feeding the Fire

Before we installed a wood stove in our own house, we enjoyed making and sitting by fires -- at campsites and in homes or cabins with fireplaces or wood stoves that we visited. At one friend's cabin, where the inside temperature is colder than outside, feeding the wood stove is essential to staying warm. Sometimes a fire simply added ambiance to a setting. Now that we have a wood stove in our own home, and using it to heat the entire house, our relationship with fire has changed.

We rise early -- at 5:00 am -- as we've done for many years. Instead of heading to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee, we now stop at the wood stove to check for coals and to re-start the fire. One of us takes charge, crumbing up some newspaper, laying kindling on top, lighting the match, and tending the fire until it catches. We both enjoy the fire-making, so now it is a bit of a coin toss as to who makes the coffee and who gets to make the fire. About twice a week we empty the ash tray in the bottom of the stove before starting a new fire.
Moving split and seasoned wood from the yard, to the basement, and then to the box behind the stove is now a daily or twice daily ritual. Humans have used fire for tens of thousands of years or longer. Heating our house with wood, with all the associated tasks, feels ancient and earthy and makes us more intimate with nature. We now depend on the growth of local trees - hardwoods specifically -- and the harvest of those trees to feed our fires. This feels better than heating our house with non-renewal oil, a source that nature cannot renew in many lifetimes.

The most unexpected outcome of the new wood stove is the warmth. That may seem surprising. We knew that the stove would warm the house, we just didn't know how much and how effectively. When the fire is burning hot - about 400F -- the heat radiating from the stove seeps into nearly every corner of the house (the first and second floors). The tile hearth serves as a mini heat sink, a nice spot to warm our toes. The entire house feels cozy, whereas with oil heat we often felt cold and wore several layers of clothing inside the house. Now, sometimes we strip to a t-shirt.

Keeping the fire burning is now part of our daily lives and we are enjoying the work and the warmth.

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