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Fire, Food, Sleep. Repeat.

Happiness is a warm wood stove


Ahh, winter. Time to put aside the frantic pursuits of summer, the toilsome efforts of the harvest, and sit back and weather the cold, wind, rain and snow in a warm, quiet house. You sit back with a cat on your lap, a dog curled at your feet, and a good book in hand as you relax by the fire. Time for a night of intensive hibernation.

Unless ... you happen to need some wood for the stove. It's the only source of heat in the entire house, the only bastion between you and the slinking cold that searches for any opening, any unlocked window or crack in the door, to insinuate a chilling coil around us and our beloved critters. So up and at 'em, out to the woodpile with the carrying sling and a flashlight (don't want to mistake my ankle for a branch), grabbing the maul to split some of the bigger pieces into kindling before carrying it all back in.

Then Mo, our pet pygmy goat and goodwill ambassador, wanders over to chew on the freshly split wood while his front hooves perch atop the pile, the Caprine Conqueror. "Mo, do you think you could move?" Mo snorts, looks at me in that inscrutable goat manner, and goes back to another choice tidbit. Hmph.


e literally live in the woods. The floors, walls and ceilings of our house, all honey colored, are carefully rendered from the trees that were here on the building site, and there are many more growing all around. Heating with wood, too, seems part of the cyclical nadir of this season, and being forced outdoors for more fuel is a pleasant necessity. The bare branches are exquisite in their patience, asleep and trusting in the coming spring. Not me. It's freezin' out here, and scenery notwithstanding, I just got to crank up the BTUs. Lumbering around in a brown, one-piece insulated suit, I think of my resemblance to some underfed bear, waking up in the middle of winter to scrounge around for some grub.

There's always that rhythm. Inside you rest and warm up, outside you work and try not to cool down. We find a cadence in the deep rest of nature all around us, in the contentment of our pets, in the demands and rewards of keeping a fire.

You go back inside with the wood and immediately start to sweat like a pig on a treadmill, though I bet this is one of the few areas around Chapel Hill without a NordicTrack or the like for at least a 3 mile radius, guaranteed. Chopping wood is great exercise, and if you really need a workout, grab the chainsaw and go divvy up some of that wood that's still around from Hurricane Fran. Lugging as much as you can hold back inside (wouldn't want to go back out in the cold, now would you?

), you can't seem to get off the wool toboggan and those coveralls fast enough to offset the radiant warmth of the chugging fire stove until, 20 minutes later and suddenly chilled, you're as grateful as the cats and the little dog that are all curled up at its massive feet.

Everyone in the house needs the warmth of this stove, and they're near it for more than mere heat. They gravitate around its central location in a way you'll never experience in a house with heating vents. The warmth reaches out with a soothing benevolence as you gratefully unwind your creaks and cricks from a hard day of whatever it is that you'd rather not be doing. Sleep sits down beside you, one arm around your shoulders as it tells you a story that becomes a long, comfy dream.

El Camino, our youngest, fattest, most tom-of-them-all cat is also the one who's the total heat-Hoover. He walks between the stove and the wall behind it, his fur rubbing along them both like a feline Fuller brush. I'm always afraid he's going to spontaneously combust on one of those excursions, but he just comes out the other side with a big kitty smile on his face, belly swinging a little bit from side to side. Our little Feist, part Chihuahua and part Jack Russell terrier (the aforementioned cat actually outweighs him), also loves the stove, and he and the cat, our Australian Shepherd and yes, the goat that thinks he's human, can be found on the coldest nights all gently arranged in a grateful, glow-worshipping semicircle of thermal nirvana.

It's so elementally satisfying to be able to control your warmth by moving closer to the wood stove for a little extra heat love. It's so there, so present--not generated by nuclear fury and sizzling in on wires, pumped out of a propane tank or oozed out from oil. It's there being summoned forth in your own home, living fire, dancing in the belly of that squat black Buddha, as you strike the balance between cold ashes and overheating, playing the damper, the air valve, and the ash door in a movement of orchestrated combustion. It's not a bother, but a satisfying connection between your very warm self and the blaze keeping you that way.

We know that burning wood is not necessarily the environmentally ideal way to heat. Still, all those modern trophy house behemoths, however well-insulated, are pulling way more energy than we are, and it all has to come from somewhere. Our house is modest, with good insulation even by today's standards, and a philosophy of conservation written in its construction. We don't need a lot of wood to warm this place, and a resonant connection seems to form between our stove, our dwelling, and the timber giving up its burning energy.


he cold outside reminds me. Mo's going to need fresh bedding hay for tomorrow--it'll barely reach 40, and he's a small guy out there in his little house with only the straw to curl up in.

Finishing up, I give Mo some tasty, custom-formulated goat food with vitamins, minerals and digestive supplements, and pour him some water/Gatorade carbo mixture (heated, thank you very much), which he enthusiastically slurps, finally looking up and licking his chops from his vantage point on the front porch. Content and ready for a snooze, even a goat knows that hibernation is its own reward.

Finally done, in more ways than one, I flop down into a chair with a cup of hot tea. The flames play on a foundation of glowing coals, and the entire house is steeped in warmth. It'll be cozy under the covers, as the fire burns low and the house cools down. In the morning, we'll wake up, and wake up the fire, in another cycle of warmth, offering up smoke and sparks to the vast winter sky. EndBlock

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