October 07, 2003

Mindfulness of Winter Wood

The body has a kind of memory unknown to the mind, its cues and prompts coming from the feel of things held by hands, joints flexed just so, tension held here and there, a certain vantage point more than the thing seen. I cannot stand behind someone at the computer and tell them what steps to take to complete a complex task they don't know, even if it is something I do 'mindlessly' a dozen times a day. It is only after I sit down in the seat, put my body into the routine, feel my way through its steps that the sequence for the task comes flowing out my fingers to the proper keys in perfect order that in a sense, I did not know. It is the same way with building a fire.

It has been almost thirty years since the first time I fumbled with strike-anywhere matches, crumpled newspaper, and gathered the three stages of kindling that will build a quick fire. The routine unfolds unconsciously when my body moves into that certain configuration kneeling before a cold stove. Each motion is stored in the moving parts of trunk, eyes and hands, in the timing and sequence and plans that the soma uses while the psyche attends to other matters on a cool early morning in October. Suddenly a fire pops and sizzles in the stove behind me, and I am barely aware that my hands contributed to its presence.

And yet, considered as a whole the home industry of wood burning, I cannot imagine a more intentional and premeditative endeavor than heating a house with wood that must come from the woodburner's own efforts. My calendar runs two winters ahead to fetch and cover wood to dry for the long winters. In January, my week will be governed by the snowstorm that is expected as the weekend approaches; will I have enough of the right mix of high-heat maple and oak and smaller quick burning starter wood under cover from the snow? My morning fire anticipates the day ahead, and I load it full, or put just enough in to keep some coals, acting as the house's thinking thermostat and weatherman all together.

I know the source of it from the forest, and can often say with precision where any given piece of stove wood fell to earth. After four winters here, I know well the temperament of this old house, and I understand the moods of the stove itself-- how it will draw in all manner of winds, when it will need ashes cleaned, how long with the present feeding it will keep the kettle hissing happily on its cast iron top. Heating with wood is both a discipline and a reflex; it requires constant attention to comforts in the present but always with a distant gaze ahead to provide for months and years of cold to come.

Posted by fred1st at October 7, 2003 05:30 AM | TrackBack

My Grandma turned 85 on Sunday. She still heats her house with wood and sometimes coal. Occasionally, I am allowed to feed the fire but she is always the one who, in the morning, takes out the ashes and begin the life of the stove. I heard on the radio that people in okinawa live longer than any other community on the planet. They attribute this to the fact that the old never stop sustaining themselves. I think my grandma's morning routine keeps her going. My morning routine only contains making coffee. I worry about how little I have to do sustain myself. No wonder we are an obese nation.

Posted by: Seth at October 7, 2003 10:25 AM

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