When Old Man Winter finishes circling around and settles in to stay, we always find our way back to fire. Not the gas kind with push buttons and quiet blue flames, but scorching orange and white stuff that makes the woodstove creak and groan, warming us even across the room and serving notice to any December chill.
On paper, wood doesn't always make sense. It takes a fair amount of sweaty work to get logs from the hillsides to the woodbox, plus there's the cutting, splitting, and drying along the way to worry about. In spite of our best efforts at efficiency it seems like each piece is moved four or five times before it's burned. The bark is messy, especially indoors. And even little traces of smoke will darken a white ceiling after a few years. There must be easier and cleaner ways to warm your toes.
But for those addicted to the flaming crackle of dry wood and the murmuring of an iron stove, these are small inconveniences. A good fire inevitably becomes a focal point in the home, leading to rewarding conversations or deep brooding thoughts among fire watchers. And for those who are sometimes called out at odd hours, it's somehow easier to leave knowing there will be a bed of coals waiting once the night work is done.
We justify wood fires by accepting that swinging a maul or building a proper woodpile aren't bad ways to get a little exercise. The repetitive nature of the work allows for unwinding after a day at the office. Some of the world's problems may even be solved while driving old wedges through the fattest most knotty pieces, or at least some frustrations can be worked out and welcome sleep can come again. Moving and stacking wood is a job naturally suited for children, who benefit from building muscle and discipline.
If we ever need to put up that outhouse, we'll have a ready supply of wood ashes to sprinkle down the hopper. Until then, all those good forest minerals will be spread straight over the garden for the summer vegetables. And the woodstove will continue to be the best place for introductory credit card offers and any other mail Julie says is either too stupid or private to have blowing around the landfill. Maybe someday I'll need that gas replica, but only when I can no longer carry in a stick of wood.