Tuesday, October 18, 2011

First fire, and thoughts of months

Last night I laid the first fire of the season.  It was very cold - 40 F and dropping - and also wet.  Owain was chilly (he enjoys saying "shiver" and "chatter" while enacting what the verbs describe).  Much laundry needed to finish drying.  So I grabbed some wood and thought: April.

The end of a stack, in the basement.
April. These pieces of wood I set aside six months ago, at winter's end.  I had stacked them the previous year, in spring or summer 2010.  The wood around them was burned last winter.  These were left over, nicely dried by the winter's lack of humidity.  They dried further over the course of the following spring, summer, and autumn.  In my hands last night were bits of a winter's end.  The oak summoned up sounds of the little creek running, overfull with snowmelt runoff.  I remember the way my boots slipped and dug into April mud, that mini-season's freshly thawed, quickly drenched earth.

April in October: last night was the first step on a new winter's road, which leads all the way through next April.    Burning bark's crackle tells me of darkest December to come, of coldest January, of ice dragging tree limbs down to heaped snowpack.  This would I hauled inside a few months ago; the next stacks will be schlepped in over paths made of hard-packed snow, trenches maintained between looming drifts.

Lighting the fire last night, winter habits immediately came to mind and muscle: how far back to shove wood in the firebox, how often to scan the temperature gauge, how many layers of which materials to stack.  Memories of hanging wet laundry on the lines around the stove, and, up above, on a rack set in the kitchen.  These are muscle memories from a cold time, often built through exertion in the dark.

This morning the sun decided to rise in a clear sky, warming the surprised if grateful land.  So I let the fire burn itself out.  Soon I won't be able to.  Instead I'll be getting up 30 minutes earlier than usual, stomping down to the basement to stoke up the previous night's embers into something for warming my family.  I'll spin open the air inflow valves, remember not to touch hot iron with my unprotected skin, place carefully chosen dry bark over some of the embers, and coax the ruddy blackened wood bits into fire.  The children will eventually descend to our basement stove, shivering and chanting the anti-morning dirge of teenagers, warming themselves as near to the iron black box as they can.

For now it's not yet freezing.  It's October, but we hold April in our hands.

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