Magnetic North Dec. 23, 2009: Wood burning magic

Wood burning magic
Wood burning magic

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Welcome back to Magnetic North, a whiter and brighter and softer walking place since our recent snowfall. My kick sled is fired up and ready to go. No more clunky trudges to the mailbox. Or tedious treks to barn and coop with buckets growing out of each mittened hand. Now I glide, I zip, I LOVE winter!

There is, of course, the problem of staying warm. Not outside. Outside’s easy. You just keep moving. Moving the snow off the deck. Moving the water and hay and feed to the critters. Moving the wood from shed to house. Heck, most days I get so OVERheated from moving around outside I have to shed my coat and hat way before I’m done with the chores.

No, staying warm INSIDE the house is the biggest winter bugaboo in these parts. With electric heat getting more and more costly, I ordered double the amount of firewood this year. It’s hard to spend money on firewood just when your’re taking down the storm windows. But as soon as the mountain of split maple got dumped in the yard, I sensed that distant glow of September warmth to come.

Paul and I love wood heat. To us, nothing warms you faster or deeper. Soul deep, not just skin deep like electric or propane. Our wood furnace vents its delicious warmth through a rectangular metal floor grate in our hallway. When the inside temperature of the furnace gets high enough, a fan automatically begins pushing warm air up through the grate.

Ah, the sound of that fan. It brings both Paul and me to our feet, each hoping to be the first one to stand over the grate - ideally still in jammies and robe - so as to let the warm breezes fill our robes and our hearts. Gives me goose bumps just to think about it.

This guilty pleasure is but one reason we are wood heat junkies. Another is the ritual. Gathering kindling. Twisting the newspapers.  Incessantly fiddling with the damper. The simple starting, tending, fussbudgetness of it all. Really now, can merely twisting a thermostat come close to that?

Thanks mainly to our wood burning furnace, I start and end my days in winter with meditation, if not outright prayer. The metallic squawk of the black iron furnace door shifts my fevered brain into a serene neutral. Then, mmmmmm, the sharp sweet sulfur scent of the diamond match reaches me. One match sets papers and pine twigs ablaze. I hold my breath. The fires fingers reach all corners of the wood box.
The bigger sticks start charring. And now comes the hard part.

Just when the heat is flowing towards my chilly bones. Just as the beauty of the fire bursts into bloom. Just then it is time to shut the door and wait. Wait for that lovely sound. The fan, the fan. Calling us to stand over that fire grate, sipping our coffee and grinning like sleepy puppies.

When we bought our wood stove, a Clayton, we gathered way more facts about burning wood than we did wood to burn. What  species of wood is available up here? Among those - birch, poplar, maple - which burns best? Gives the most heat. How much will we need to heat our house for the winter? And what the heck is a cord anyway?

And all that was very good to know. Helpful. But nowhere in the mountain of factoids about burning wood for heat did the poetry of the act come through. That was a bonus. One we delight in every day between September and May.

And so, in honor of the joy of wood heat, here is a Christmas present of sorts for my fellow wood heat junkies. Or for anyone considering going that way. I don’t know the author, but found it online on one of dozens of sties extolling wood heat’s virtues. 
 
“Fireside Lore”

Hickory makes the hottest coals in stoves when winter's bleak,
Apple wood like incense burning through the hall both fragrance seek,
Elm wood fires have little smoke and warm both serf and lord,
Oak logs split and dried this year make good next winters hoard,
Beech burns bright and fill a the room with warmth and dancing light,
Maple sweet, not white or red will burn throughout the night,
Birch logs cut, need ne'er be stored they blaze, then heat the pot,
Ash, straight grain and easy split the kettle sings, and stove is hot,
Poplar logs must need be dried lest smoke both then ensue,
Pine and fir midst showers of sparks burn fast and line the blackened flue

Merry Christmas all. May your own fires burn bright, and sweet all through the shiny bright New Year.

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