Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fire bad? Fire good!

I built a fire tonight.

It doesn't sound like much, but as I sit here writing this and the fire is roaring in the woodburner I can't help but feel a huge sense of pride and not a little amount of relief. I'm a suburban kid, mostly. Starting a fire wasn't something that was done often---at least not intentionally.

We're finding that having a fire burning in the woodburner downstairs does a pretty good job at heating the entire living room and our bedroom to a nice toasty "I can feel my legs!" temperature that's preferable to the feet-in-ice-blocks sort of temperature that things seem to settle into naturally. As a consequence, we're going through a lot of wood. So far it's been the occasional bag of logs from Warehouse when they have them but more often than not it's been bags of pine blocks picked up at any one of a half dozen places that sell them. Woolworth's, Countdown, Warehouse, New World, several nearby dairies---it's all the same. A big bag of pine blocks that look like ends and scraps from construction jobs where odd bits of rough wood from building house frames were swept into a heap and scooped into bags.

Joanne just put in our first order for a wood delivery from a local woodery. I'm not sure that's a real word. A bunch of companies will deliver wood in various forms and types and combinations to suit your wood needs. Our order is going to be pine and gum. Pine being the fast-burning easy-to-light stuff and gum (eucalyptus, for those in the States) being the slow-burning hard-to-light variety that keeps the fire burning longer. Presumably this wood will be more of the rustic split-logs type and not urban-sprawl-scraps.

Joanne builds the fires. She puts some newspaper and kindling in, lights it and POOF! There's a fire. Periodically she has to open the glass door of the woodburner and blow gently at it to coax it to burn hotter and it usually responds with a FOOM! and a beautiful blaze emerges from the wood like it really wanted to get out all along and she was just clearing the way. She's done this a bit before, and she knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

Joanne is out tonight with some girl friends, and I'm here with the sleeping kids "holding down the fort." I like the phrase because it implies that I'm doing some kind of crucial and official sentry duty that requires a grown man to sit on a couch in his underwear with a computer on his lap.

So knowing how much she likes the fires and knowing how much she hates the feet-in-ice-blocks feeling, I thought it might be nice to whip up a fire and let it blaze away while I settle into a good fort down-holding scenario in slippers and with or without pants. I spent a good hour plying the pine blocks with every fire-building trick I had---rearranging them, tucking newspaper under them, around them, on top of them. I built teepees of kindling, card-houses of two-by-four chunks. I shoveled ashes, I cleared airflow pathways. I went through probably a Sunday edition of the newspaper. In the end, I'm pretty sure it was the swearing at the charred pile of blocks that eventually turned the tide of battle and got a self-sustaining fire going.

When the fire finally caught, it was thanks to a teepee of kindling under which I'd in turn sacrificed three separate wadded up newspaper pages, letting each one have ample time to burn down. This tepee sat in a mire of half-burned newspaper ash, clumps of charcoal from failed kindling attempts and tightly-wadded and only partially singed sausages of newspaper from a doomed strategy that was discarded pretty early on in the process.

As of right this minute, it appears that the sausages eventually went up, as did the sort of tossed salad of weekend news magazine pages that burned slowly but colorfully before unwadding themselves somehow and going out cold against the floor of the fire tiles.

It was about the time that I'd given up on the magazine pages that I think my dad would have slammed the woodburner shut in a cloud of profanity. He'd have then emerged from the garage a minute later wild-eyed and with gas can in hand commending himself for his ingenuity in a tone loud enough for everyone to hear and in a way that preempted any skeptical comments from the onlookers. I was determined to see my smoldering pile of carbon past this point and not give in to chemistry so easily as the previous generation of mostly-suburban fire-building wannabes.

And it was worth it. I'm very proud of my fire, and I'm feeding it, tending it and cooing over it like I would a cranky infant placed under my care. At times it fixes my gaze and I stare dreamily into it. And I'm just starting to feel my legs again.


Joanne said...

I just got home from a night of much-needed female camaraderie to read this post from my dear husband. I'm sitting here laughing out loud in the dark at the picture he has painted, and feeling toasty warm. Thanks, honey!

Dr. Cathy Ezrailson said...

I am impressed, Steve. And, heartened that not only were you in the end successful, but that you persisted toward success and reaped the benefits from success. You paint such a touching picture of the process, too. I am almost there. So, no central heat, I take it? Something I experienced when I was a young bride in Wyoming, of all places. It taught me that it takes tremendous effort against nature, to thwart the elements, even in underwear...but, then, our fire-wizard, Joanne has learned that lesson early on and well, it seems. Miss you, so.

MLW said...

It's all the cold WI nights on w.w. cir.. Wait, don't they teah us that stuff at the school forest around here? I think so!
I'm glad you had a night out with the girls. I wish I was there.
Next time can I come?
Love you.
P.S. Way to burn things, while doing the no pants dance. Well done, you.