I recently wrote to my friend Cienna about life here in the winter: Feed the fire, go for a walk, feed the fire, cook something, eat it, feed the fire, read something, feed the fire, write something, feed the fire, go for a run, feed the fire. You get the idea.
Wheelbarrowing wood from the shed to the house, carrying it inside in armloads with the moss and splinters trailing along behind. Lighting a fire in the morning or when you come home at night. Staying well stocked in kindling. Crumpling newspaper. Setting up the kind of structure and air spaces flames want to devour. Stirring the coals. Hearing the crackle and watching the orange-light glow of a truly hot burning fire. These routines are a way of marking the season and the passing of another year here. And remembering the wood runs with my dad, Malcolm, that make it all possible. Knowing how hard we worked to heat the house and that we’ll do it all again soon, marking a different, warmer, dryer season.
Yesterday, while it wasn’t raining, I filled a box with kindling, listening to the sound while I split fir into skinny little straight, tight grained shingles and then into long slender sticks. “SPLING!” each piece of kindling said as it popped off from the rest of the tree it was a part of. Such a satisfying sound, with the sight of the wood peeling off into a pile around the chopping block like a lot of pick-up-sticks laying every which way.
While splinging along, filling my box, soaking in the strangely warm December Saturday, making fire lighting during the work week easier, I thought of my dad again. This time, I remembered his time enduring radiation carefully calculated and aimed by specialists to zap the cancerous tumor in his throat more than five years ago. (It wasn’t fun, but it worked.) For some reason, when the stress of that medical adventure really set in, he would shut his eyes and play back a persistent memory of rototiller tines turning rich, deep brown earth over in our garden beds like some kind of chocolate cake batter. The image always came easily and provided a much needed diversion from the uncomfortable reality at hand. Maybe someday, I thought, the spling and scatter of surrounding kindling and the warmth it portends in a cold spell will do that for me.
My neighbor, Will, came along and teased about our family tendency to get ahead on this sort of thing. It is a luxury, undoubtedly. Making kindling day by day never bothered him, he said. I smiled. In my head it seemed comparable to one notable difference between my friend Cienna and I: some of us eat each little shred of crab as we coax it out of the shell (her), while some of us coax and coax the crab flesh into a pile, then eat it all at once (me). Either way, it’s a lot of work at a respectable job.
At this point, I’m feeding the fire more out of habit than need. The weather really hasn’t gotten freezing cold yet, though usually by now it would have. Funny the way we’re programed, isn’t it? At least, when the ice comes along, I’ll be ready.