January 28, 2003

Hope Runs Eternal ~ Part Three

Or, Ignorance of the Law(s of Chemistry) is No Excuse


It was late summer when the woodstove was delivered to their house and just the sight of it's massive presence on the hearth gave Ann and Fred a feeling of joy and confidence at the coming of their second winter in the old Virginia homeplace. The sheer simplicity of it... no moving parts other than the hinged door and the threaded draft caps... fit so perfectly with their hopes for finding 'appropriate technology' in their new rural lifestyle. Cutting wood by hand that would otherwise lay in the forest and rot also seemed like good stewardship, in addition to providing an incredible amount of exercise. Body, soul and spirit, in their new incarnation... it was all coming together now, it seemed.

During its first month in the house, the woodstove was home to a cheery house plant that sat on a yard-sale crocheted doily on its top surface. Then, on the first September morning when the house was just the very least bit chilly, the day for the christening had arrived. A handful of kindling and few small dry pieces of oak warm heated the cast iron for the first time, sending off warm rays of heat in a way that arm-loads of fireplace wood never had. Fred breathed a sigh of deep satisfaction and pride. This was the easiest and most impressive yet in his short list of do-it-yourself projects since becoming a quasi-homesteader in their new Virginia lifestyle.

It wasn't long before the Firsts' good neighbor Euell took pity on the well-intentioned but inexperienced couple, struggling with their bow-saw and hauling five hundred pounds of wood in the back of their little Datsun Hatchback. It was laughable to see it trudge along with it's rear down on the frame, laboring along the back roads to home like an old man leaning into his load. Euell, who had grown up 'country' and was wise in the ways of self-reliance and rural ingenuity. He encouraged Fred to buy a chain saw if he was going to be serious about wood gathering, and showed him how to use it safely so as to retain all of the usual appendages.

Fred, Ann and 2 yr old dau circa 1975It wasn't long before they traded in the frail little hatchback for a red Chevy Luv truck that would carry home literally tons of free wood from the forest. Stove lengths of locust and oak, hickory and cherry grew up in glorious ranks and rows of future coziness, just out their back door. The wood burning enterprise and the wonderful ritual of heating with wood was in full swing by the time the colder days of October had arrived. The young couple and their small daughter were happy in their family woodgatherings and quite contented indoors now, basking in the glow of their Mamma Bear and all was well with the world.

Or so it would seem. A clueless newcomer to country living tends to think no more of the chemistry of smoke than of the physics of his digestive processes. It just happens, right? Fire produces heat produces smoke, smoke rises and goes away. End of story. Ignorance it turns out, is not bliss after all when it comes to bringing a fire intentionally inside your home. Ignorance can get you toasted in a house fire, and this final ignominy only after spending months of smelling like a charcoal briquette. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

to be continued PART FOUR

Posted by fred1st at January 28, 2003 04:27 AM | TrackBack

I feel like I could watch this story unfold, almost through the eyes of an author or oracle. I know vaguely what comes, but it's actually exciting to think that, well, really, when it comes down to it, I don't. I have images of those pre-me years that I've cultivated from pictures like this one, and stories you've told, and sometimes I just let my imagination run back to the chocolates and browns of your woodsy and quasi-liberated late twenties, early thirties. House fire? I don't even remember a housefire. It's thrilling to think that we live such full lives that housefires and tons of cut wood can all be forgotten to the wayside for days, weeks, years at a time. Let me know when the next segments come. Or maybe I'll find them on my own.
Thanks, Papa.


Posted by: boy at January 28, 2003 04:53 PM

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