The ticking, banging, gong, and flutter of wings that signaled the wood stove was heating up could be heard clear on the other side of the house. It was the sound of comfort on it’s way, and even though the floor was too cold to walk on in bare feet and she could see her breath in the closet where she hurriedly tried to change from pajamas to out door apparel there was something about that sound that gave her a warm feeling. Sadly it was a warm feeling that wasn’t real and she quickly cursed and how frigid the air was and how long it was taking to get a bra on with her fingers numb.
Winter mornings weren’t always this way. Most nights her insomnia would wake her around 2 a.m. and she’d slip out of bed, sliding her feet into her old plaid slippers and her arms into the thick robe kept at the end of her bed. She’d quietly make her way down the hall towards the still glowing stove, careful not to touch it as it maintained it’s heat in a way she wished her sheets would. Carefully opening the front door, sliding the air vent to the wide open position, and grabbing a poker from the rack of iron tools, she’d shuffle the contents around getting hot coals to glow all over the bed of ashes before adding a couple pieces of wood. Not quite closing the door she’d return the poker to the rack and step back to watch the fire reignite.
Sometimes the fire came slowly, the coals not quite hot enough or the wood she placed inside a bit damp or very, very old and therefore difficult to start. Other times the fire wooshed up, spurned on by the front door and air vent being open, the cold flue and the still warm stove creating a sucking and drawing that immediately brings the flames to life. It was an art, a dance, this fire making, and she’d only recently become an artist.
When she’d first arrived in the mountains, new to the cold and the idea of a wood stove for heat, she’d read the manual for the stove and followed all the directions to a t. She struggled mightily with each and every fire. It was somewhere around the second month of her first winter, her city car unable to make it up her street in the snow and therefore sitting as far as she could get it off to the side of the road but technically in her neighbors yard, that she mentioned to an old-timer at the local coffee shop she’d walked to for breakfast just how difficult it was keeping her house warm. They commiserated a bit and then he clued her in to the best kept secret she’d ever heard about starting fire: pinecones. Just one pinecone would get any fire started, wet or dry, old wood or new, just throw a pinecone in there when you go to light it.
For the rest of that winter and the winter next she always had a fire and never had trouble lighting it or re-lighting it. She did, however, start to have trouble with smoke. It turned out that summer as she was having the flue cleaned for the first time ever that pinecones leave behind a substantial amount of creosote and she was lucky she hadn’t smoked herself out or worse, started her whole house on fire. Pinecones were now a thing of her past, and so were cozy warm winter fires.
In her third year of mountain living she met a guy who was intent on proving to her that he knew how to start a fire anywhere and keep it going. By the fourth month of their relationship when it was freezing cold and they were both desperate for just enough heat to sleep in they started going to his place where he could actually light a fire and keep it lit. Their relationship was as doomed as his ability to work her stove.
Another year and another guy, this one claiming there was no need for a wood stove, simply use the HVAC system. Which was all well and good until the electricity bill arrived. It turns out you can’t heat a house in the mountains using your electricity, or your propane, unless you’re willing to pay dearly. Their relationship also ended, much the way the stove was never lit.
By her fifth year in the mountains she had figured out a thing or two. She no longer had a car that stayed parked in her neighbors yard each time it snowed, that was a win. And she’d figured out how to make the stove limp along enough that she didn’t need a heater. But damned if that limping didn’t mean numb fingers on a bra strap in the morning.
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