Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Warming the Body and Soul
It's been really cold the past two days. The temperatures have been in the mid-20s, which I guess is not all that cold compared to the 20 below people in Montana have been dealing with. But it feels cold, piercing and damp. How nice it is to have a fire to cozy up to on an evening like this! I love to back up to the fireplace and feel the warmth soaking through my clothes.
But what if the fireplace was my only source of heat, as it was for the pioneer family? What if it was my cookstove?
There are a few things I've noticed about having a fire that might be tiresome if I had to have one all the time instead of just when I want one. For one thing, it takes quite a bit of wood to keep a fire fed. In the age of the chain saw, it's an afternoon's work to cut up and stack enough wood to last for several days or even a couple of weeks. Imagine if every piece of wood that went into the fireplace had to be chopped with an axe. How much of a man's time would be taken up with providing enough wood to keep the family warm all winter? And how tired would his back get after splitting the logs into pieces small enough to manage?
All that wood that burns makes a lot of ash, too. I imagine cleaning ashes from the fireplace would be a job that would need doing every few days. And what a nasty, dusty job that would be! I always have trouble figuring out what to do with the few ashes that come from our fireplace. What would I do with them if I had to get rid of some every few days?
Finally, it seems to me that a fireplace requires a lot of attention to keep it going well. If it's left too long before new wood is put in, the coals will burn down to the point that more kindling has to be put in to get the fire started again. I am never able to keep a fire going overnight so there is something to restart the fire in the morning - I have to start from scratch. Did the pioneers get up during the night to add wood to the fire? I've read in different places before about people "banking" a fire, but I don't really know what that means. I always assumed it meant scraping the burning coals together into a pile and then pulling ashes around them to insulate them through the night so some of them would still be glowing the next morning. I never seem to be able to do that, though, so maybe I'm wrong about what it means.
Still, for all the work and trouble it takes to have a fire, there's nothing as cheery on a gray winter day as a glowing fire.