My morning rhythm has changed. Just two weeks ago, I used to get up and mindlessly flip a switch to heat the house before moving on to my coffee ritual. Now, I slip on flip-flops, throw on my black velvet Goodwill robe, the one with an I. Magnin label, my heavy gray work-gloves and shuffle out to the woodshed with the sleepy dust still in my eyes. I pick up my hatchet to split some kindling. It’s honed edge meets the top of the dry cedar shake and slices through easily; the morning silence is broken and I breathe in the wood’s clean sharp scent.
I pick up the sticks and a few logs already split and when my arms can hold no more, I head up the cobbled path to the back-deck stairs into the house, dropping the fuel into the wood box. The chilly house seems to be waiting and then I crinkle up the papers of yesterday’s news; sometimes I stop to scan an article about the local basketball team going to regionals or the first round of the State Solo & Ensemble Competition. For several decades I taught piano to many families in this town so it’s not so unusual for me to recognize most of the surnames. I probably know just about everybody’s brother or mother, or they know me.
The small dry pieces of brown gray cedar nestle on top of the newsprint in the shape of a tepee. I’ve been told I build squaw fires. The scratch of a match on the side of the red, white and black box and a small blue yellow flame appears at the end and I bend low to bring it to the edge of the paper. I wait for the satisfying whoosh and roar as first the paper, then sticks catch the flame and are drawn up the chimney.
But, after my recent move back to Pie Cottage, I did not have the best fire day. A task that should have taken 5 minutes, went on all morning. Setting logs, adding more paper, adding more kindling, adjusting the front doors open a crack to coax a draw, finally getting out the bellows and plopping myself on the floor in front of the stove. Open, close them, open, close them; seeing the flame build with this artificial breath only to die when I stop pumping.
I unknowingly bought wet wood several weeks ago just before the move. With all of the best intentions, a new Facebook friend, who I’d never met in person, offered to help locate some dry cord wood before I moved back so I could finish out the late Winter and Spring woodstove season. It was a long shot but we both hoped that “surface wet” would mean just that; only the surface. No such luck. It’s good wood—alder, fir, madrone—and I’m grateful for all the effort and energy that was put into making the delivery happen. It will keep me warm next Fall and Winter. Hopefully I’ll be here to enjoy it.
And, today the sun is out and the weather is warming up. A pair of wool socks added to my flip-flops, a sweater over my chamois shirt and a mug of hot tea will warm me enough for now.
Friends brought over bone dry wood from their own piles to see me through the last of the cold nights. The beauty of rural living is that these friendships are the best kind of warmth there is.