Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chop wood, carry water. The art of tending fire.

All winter long we keep a fire burning in our woodstove and it goes through a lot of wood. It takes some skill to relight it in the morning and to tend it through the day so that the room temperature hovers around 70 degrees F. Over the years we have learned the tricks to do with stoking the fire at just the right moment ( too soon and we are cooked out of the house, too late and the room cools down and the chimney sends blue smoke drifting out among the tall evergreens that surround our home). We have even found that opening the door to the cold sunroom can be used to balance up an over-active blast of heat. Bunkering down for a long slow overnight burn requires just the right kind of wood (a big piece of maple, not too dry) to burn slowly through the night and keep the house temperature from plunging too low. The real challenge, the real test of skill, however begins with the milder temperatures of early Spring.
With the outside temperature in the 50 degree range, it does n`t take much of a fire to keep the indoor temperature up to normal once the initial morning chill is gone from the kitchen. We are now into finessing the fire to keep it burning cleanly in only a portion of the firebox. It is a sign of defeat to have to open the doors and windows to cool things down and the sunroom is now picking up it`s own heat from the morning`s sunlight. We switch to smaller pieces of wood that will provide quick pick-me-ups for an almost burnt out fire. We have to check the fire more often. Soon we will be able to burn a quick fire in the early morning and then let it go out and rely on the sun to boost us through the day. Finally, just to turn things around and keep us on our toes, in the summer there are no more fires and we will be drawing the curtains and keeping the windows closed to maintain the morning`s coolness against the heat of the day. All in all we spend a lot of thought and energy on managing an even temperature and I haven`t even mentioned the different layers of clothing required for different times of the year.

One would think that a thermostat attached to electric or some other automatic form of heating would be a great invention for us on our little island but that would run counter to the other important usefulness of our own involved heating routine. We have friends who have specially designated rooms for meditation so that they may practice being present in the moment. Set your thermostat, sit down and discipline your mind to zero in on the ground of being. We have fire to tend so when would we have time to be sitting around? Ah yes, is it possible that the discipline of tending fire is as close to the center of life as it is possible to get? Next no doubt we will be chopping wood and carrying water.

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