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Warming Up To Wood

We decided to begin the new year with a second wood-burning stove. Thought it made good sense and cents to kick the addiction to fuel oil consumption. We’d heard all the warnings about skyrocketing prices, and we decided it might even be patriotic to round up the chain saw, sledgehammer, and steel wedges and lay in a green supply of wood for the winter of 2005-2006.

As for this winter, we accepted the offer of a neighbor who had a barn full of seasoned locust, black walnut, and Osage orange, which he said was waiting for our pickup truck to be sent in his direction. No charge!

Call it God’s gift to the cold and shivering.

We’ve come a long way since the fire at the mouth of the cave, but it’s well to remember that wood-burning stoves don’t fall out of the sky. There’s work and work and there’s saving and saving, then the possibility of sharing the overage.

Another neighbor, not to be outdone, deposited a pile of the inedible Osage orange on the doorstep of our coal house, and he departed with not so much as a “here’s a little something for your new stove.”

It took three grown men to install the take-no-prisoners critter designed to keep us warm on three-dog nights. First, the mainly ornamental grate had to be removed (will make an interesting flower pot come spring), and there needed to be a steel sleeve inserted into the stone chimney to provide a good draft and, we hope, keep this old house from burning down.

The first load of seasoned wood, split to fit inside the firebrick-lined contraption, was brought home with as much celebration as winning the World Series. Logs stacked nicely on the back porch lent a welcomed measure of windbreak for the outside dogs, Pumpkin and Kink. They and we could tell right off, a woodchopper is blessed with extra-added features not commonly associated with expensive fuel oil and impersonal furnace technology.

Part of the first load of timber found a resting place in the circular container near the side porch door, a handy repository for kindling and other stray pieces of softwood. Fires, like relationships, start much better when handled delicately at the start, then given a chance to warm up for later fulfillment.

The sledgehammer and steel wedges brought back memories of younger days, but it was still possible to handle the task if patience was given a chance—split a new log down the middle, then halve the halves. Good fires prefer generous surfaces with occasional splinters tenderly hanging on.

It doesn’t matter if the telephone is ringing or the fax machine is hot to trot. Digitalized transmissions can find their own doghouses. Cyberspace folks can find somebody else to bug. Violence on television can feed on itself. As for hackers and their sidekick spammers, they ought to be sent to the nearest woodpile.

On second thought, “No,” let the woodpile be the one place where the woodsman can be left alone to do an honest afternoon’s work. Let the softened hands of autumn toughen to the rhythm of steel on steel. Let there be an armload of goodness to take to shelter for a pleasant year of seasoning.

Our coal house has become our woodshed and our fuel oil tank has become a court of desperate resort. The idea is to use our natural energy sparingly and thoughtfully, inspirational when spotting downed tree limbs better burned than hauled away in fuel-guzzling trucks.

It’s hard to imagine sitting and staring at a furnace as a source for creativity. On the other hand, there’s hardly anything as consoling as wood-burning flames lapping up the fragrance of cedar and Osage orange.

A fire well-tended is one of the noblest creations—fuel for the chilling heart and soul. Better than New Year’s resolutions, it sets the tone for a different tomorrow.

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