Saturday, December 21, 2013

Keeping the Home Fires Burning

Fire by lizaleemiller
Fire, a photo by lizaleemiller on Flickr.

Kneeling before the fire, tending it. Urging the flames to catch the wood. Adding paper, kindling, a likely looking log. Using the bellows to push oxygen into the hot coals. I feel my hands doing motions that my ancestors have done since the beginning of time. Tending a fire, after all, is not a skill that has undergone radical change. Sure, I have a pair of bellows that I use instead of blowing on the coals. I have a fire starter so I can just click a button and apply flame to the paper with ease. But these are minor advances that don't greatly affect the ancient connection of starting a fire. Sometimes getting a fire to go in my huge wood stove can be challenging. Our chimney doesn't draw as well as it should so if the fire goes out overnight, it may take awhile to get it going again. Kneeling at the hearth, adding kindling, cardboard, newspaper and urging the coals to catch and heat the air so it rises up the chimney, I can almost feel in my bones the right way to do this. Watching the flames catch and dance on the wood is very gratifying.

The fact is that my success or failure at starting a fire won't make a huge difference to the warmth of my house. The furnace will kick on if our fire doesn't get going. My family won't freeze or go hungry if I can't get the fire going. I'll simply whine at my husband when he gets up that he didn't bank the fire enough the night before so HE has to get it going this morning and he'll chop some kindling (which is the real secret to getting a fire started -- lots and lots of small, chopped up pieces of wood which catch quickly) and the house will start to warm up again. In the meantime, the furnace will burn propane gas and send heat directly to the bedrooms where my family is sleeping peacefully. Still, knowing that I am successful and the fire is glowing and dancing in the wood stove is gratifying. Hearth and home. There's something wonderful there.

I try not to think about the "Spare the Air" days and global climate change. I know that heating our house by burning wood is not the best choice and actually illegal on some days. It's hard to feel that my fire has any impact, however, when I think back on the nightmarish air pollution problems that China has. The images on my TV made my lungs seize up just watching them. The image of a hidden sun and billowing, thick crud hiding an entire city from view, the grounded air planes that can't take off because the air was thick with God knows what -- I think that puts my wood fire into perspective. If all of China was heated with wood fires, it wouldn't produce the problem that unfettered industry has created. So, I'll take our solution of regulating industry and showing vast improvement in air quality over the years. And someday, when the time has truly come to stop burning wood the way we do today, we'll get a pellet stove (or whatever the equivalent is then) and burn a more efficient -- but less viscerally pleasing -- fire to heat our house.

A small act of global selfishness, I know. But, there is something about a fire in the heart of a home. I better add another log.


  1. Love this post. I too think about our connections with the ancients.

  2. I love a nice fire, something magical about it. And if you have a wood burning stove. fuelled with locally grown wood taken from coppiced woodland then it is environmentally friendly.

  3. Thanks for the support! We do have a wood stove and our wood is very local. We buy it from our neighbor's son who cuts it and stacks it for us himself. The woodland isn't managed but is left to recover on it's own. It won't be cut again until the trees are large again and they don't cut all the trees. So, it's harvested with an eye towards the future and preserving what we've got.

    Oh and I've since found out that we are not in the "spare the air" districts here so it's not technically illegal for us to have a fire. So, there's that.