by admin | November 15, 2012 4:29 pm
I lit the first fire of the season ten days before Thanksgiving. The first cold front had blown through. A light frost threatened in the morning. I have been waiting for this moment since October. Nature teased a few times. I had earlier been temped to open windows and start a fire, to let enough chill inside to fire up the hearth. We do love a fire in this family. This is our first autumn in this home, so we were itching to try out the fireplaces.
Actually, my Beautiful Mystery Companion used the formal living room’s fireplace while I was out of town a few weeks back, and reported favorably. So it isn’t technically the first fire of the season, but it is my first fire of the season. What is memorable is that I never had a fireplace in a study before. As write this piece, my feet are (slowly) being warmed by the fireplace nearby. I feel very British, a rare feeling to be had in East Texas. There is even a dog sleeping by my side— a rather smelly dog, since she got wet in the rain that preceded this cold front. That’s very British, isn’t it, a smelly dog sleeping in the study as one writes by the fireplace?
It turned out both the gas fire-starter pipes in the downstairs fireplaces were unusable since they were built of outdated old copper pipes. Replacing them is too expensive, so it’s back to Boy Scout fire-starting methods. Not to worry. I have married into a family that takes collecting firewood seriously. If a tree falls in the forest on their land, it becomes drawn and quartered in short order. Like the catfish caught on trotlines on Lake Wright Patman each spring and autumn, I am the happy beneficiary of their largesse, and can only repay their generosity through praise and the occasional helping hand.
Papa Teel, the patriarch, brought down a bucket of split plus a couple logs of unsplit lighter pine from the farm the other day, after his daughter — my BMC — told him about the unworkable gas pipes. Lighter pine, if you haven’t heard the term, is resin-rich pine that fires up about as fast as pieces of lumber soaked in kerosene — but it smells a lot better. I think it smells terrific, actually. It’s sticky to the touch, similar to the resin batters used to adhere a grip on a baseball bat. Woodshop projects, such as one undertaken for our church earlier this week, provide plenty of scrap kindling to help start a fire. The only uncertainty came in knowing how well the chimney would draw, since I had never used the fireplace before. This one drew well, I’m happy to report.
That comes as a relief, since my disasters with fireplaces are legion and legend and invariably involve the first fire of the season. I have committed the rookie mistake of the damper being closed more than once, which fills the house with smoke within minutes, setting off the smoke alarms and alarming the children as well. That reminds me of a friend, who once decided to smoke out the swallows just inside the chimney cap, who he hoped would leave if he briefly turned on his gas logs in late September, hop on out and fly off to new beginnings. The baby birds instead started plopping down into his hearth, which put quite the damper on the autumn equinox.
A few months after buying this house, I had the chimneys cleaned and inspected, patched some cracks in the firebrick and made sure all was safe — and no birds had built nests. So a few nights back I soon had a roaring, crackling fire going, thanks to the lumber scraps and lighter pine. As all men do, I got up from the computer screen every few minutes to fussily poke the fire, put another log on, grab some more lumber scraps to stoke the logs, then write another paragraph or two. There’s several quotes taped to my computer, one from Victor Borges: “A writer take earnest measures to exact his solitude and then finds ways to squander it.” Like poking a fire every two minutes.
Kansas country newspaper editor William Allen White once observed that, “There are three things no one can do to the entire satisfaction of anyone else: Make love, poke the fire and edit a newspaper.” Since I was privileged enough to do the latter for nearly three decades, I am loath to criticize those still toiling away in these challenging days. I am definitely not an expert in the first category. But as far as poking a fire, I cede territory to no one.
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