September 15, 2002

Putting the Garden to Rest

Observing the end of the gardening year has some of the same false-finality of sending one's child off to college yet again for another year. You put away the things they left behind, clutter that they will not need in their absence, and take a few loads of just plain trash to the green boxes or compost pile. There are positive remnants of their having been here for a while again...your CDs that they 'borrowed' now back again; the basement shelves now lined with reds, yellows and greens of tomatoes, squash and beans, now Mason-jarred for later during the brown-gray months ahead.

And, you miss them, gardens and college sons and daughters, in the same sort of good-riddance sort of way. You love to see them come, and enjoy them while they are here, but are secretly relieved when you can reclaim your life from the obligation of being a good host and responsible overseer of someone's, some thing else's, life and well-being. And you know that they will be back, again, soon enough, and you will be delighted to see them.

But, our freedom from obligation only changes its object during the fall from bondage to gardening to the wonderful-terrible unending care and feeding of the woodstove. For reasons which I have not fully explained to myself, but may be able to do in the winter pages of this journal, we have chosen to heat mostly with wood.

To say that I don't know all my reasons is not to say that I have made this choice lightly and without reason. It is true that heating with wood cannot be justified on the basis of being the path of least resistance, greatest convenience, or best economy of effort. And partly, that is why we heat with wood. At every step in the process, you realize your dependence on the cycle of sun-heat rain-sap, and soil-plus-time, and upon the internal wisdom of roots, trunks and leaves. Your life over winter literally depends on Nature doing what it knows how to do, and on the integrity of your woodcutter's tools, the strength of body, and an awareness of the calendar in ways that are not apparent to one who merely turns a thermostat, and pays the heating bill. I think it is a cost worth paying.

And so, in the way of a prologue and a warning to readers of Fragments, you can expect to hear more than you ever wanted to know about maintaining a woodburner's lifestyle. For the coming months, daily metaphors will no longer come from vegetables, insects and flowers of the garden and pasture, but rather from dry, bare wooded hillsides of Goose Creek; from chain saws, wood splitting, making and keeping a woodstove fire that starts in late September and runs until mid-April.

Moving from garden soil to hardwood ashes, we have come to a changing of the guard. Our children are away, our garden is hibernating, and it is time to go find the bare bones of fallen or standing scenescent walnuts, locusts and oaks. It is hard work. It is good work. It is our economy, what we do, and I hope I can tell you why.

Oh, and kids, we expect you both back home for Thanksgiving.

Posted by fred1st at September 15, 2002 08:35 PM

Fred: I remember the wood stove in the old house outside Wytheville, and I seem to recall that, even then, you were nurturing that special relationship that you have with these temperamental cast-iron beasts. But let's face it, wood stoves are sorta fun...they are meant to be poked, prodded, coaxed, cursed, and generally worried over. The payback comes in those moments of winter bliss when we come in, soaked from ice and snow, strip down to the long underwear, back up to that stove (not to close!) and toast the backside to a rosy glow. It's a wonderful feeling!


Posted by: Curt at September 16, 2002 09:54 AM

Is Curt talking about hot-crossed buns? I've never had to fully rely on wood-stove heat, but they can be interesting to tend.

I can't imagine the quietness that comes with being an empty nester out in the hills, but maybe I'll be ready for it in about 15 years! I did enjoy hearing that steady "quiet" rain yesterday morning, though.

Posted by: MarcV at September 16, 2002 01:07 PM

I haven't lived with so much as a fireplace since leaving my dad's home in 1985. I'm a fire-phobe who doesn't think even a candle flame belongs in the house. I deny the fact that the oil-burning furnace in the basement contains a flame. My stove is electric. So I'm really looking forward to hearing about the care and feeding of a woodstove. Maybe I'll become a convert?

Posted by: Fran at September 16, 2002 04:57 PM

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