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.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bitter cold and dark
Pour hot water in the dogs' water bowl
so they can drink
and then they curl up before the fire
so close they almost touch

© 2013 Liza Lee Miller

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Fog is a blessing
(during hot days of travel through California's Central Valley after crossing the deserts of Nevada)
bringing cool relief to the dry, baking, life-sucking heat
Soothing the spirit and body
with airborne liquid cooling
Mother Nature's air conditioning, I think.
How many marriages are saved by fog?  (Maybe just mine)
Blissful fog
Beloved fog

Fog swirls up off the redwoods at night as the air cools
a gray mist rising into the darkening sky
They make their own weather
these forest giants
rising 300 feet above my head
Surviving for eons to be felled when Americans came to these mountains
clear cut scars across the mountains
The fog swirling through the stumps, confused
Give it a hundred years or so and they'll be back
Blissful fog
Beloved fog

©2013 Liza Lee Miller
All rights reserved