I just threw a Pine Mountain Ultraflame fire log onto the hearth in the living room; Brian called earlier and asked me to. He’s been doing that a lot lately. The smells and sounds calm him. I know how he feels.
I think about my father a lot during this time of year. That sweet, mossy scent of fall makes the electric whine of his chain saw ring in my ears. I can nearly hear it echoing through the 10 acres of forest that surrounds my childhood home; he liked to cut his own firewood.
“Sarah,” he’d call. I was usually outside raking leaves. “She’s ready!”
I’d drop my rake and run into the woods, the sound of the Beatles my only navigation to his whereabouts. He would be waiting for me at the base of a colossal trunk, a white chunk missing from the side in the direction he wanted it to fall. I stood far away and watched him finish the job. It was exhilarating to watch the really big trees fall through surrounding branches; I liked to feel the ground shake beneath my feet.
When he finished cutting the trunk into cord wood, we threw the pieces into the back of his truck and drove it to the back porch where we would stack it. We did this every autumn. It was a repetition that never grew old.
My parents moved to Eden in 1979. There was a cast-iron stove in the living room with an old brick chimney that went through the center of the house. My parents’ bedroom was on the other side.
They were watching television one wintry evening when my mother heard a crackling noise coming from their bedroom. When she opened the door, she saw that an entire wall was rippling with flames. They spent all night putting the fire out.
Apparently there once was a stove in their room. When the previous owners took it out, they put a tin pie plate over the opening that connected it to the hearth and wallpapered over it.
The next day, my father pulled the whole chimney out and replaced it with a triple steel wood-burning stove – the stove I grew up with.
He taught me at an early age to respect fire, to make it properly: crinkled newspaper for the bottom layer, crisscrossed kindling on top of that, and then set two logs on the whole thing. This allows airflow, which keeps the fire breathing and the lumber alight.
I don’t need to do that in Manhattan. I simply put a “green log” into the fireplace, light the edges of the biodegradable material that covers it and ta-da! An instant “nostalgic” fire that lasts three hours.
It’s easy and clean. But I miss the heady smoke that cured my family’s hair and clothes during wintertime.
During the fall of 2006, my father cut what ended up being five years’ worth of firewood. At the time, we knew he was sick, but we didn’t know he would die that January. He wanted to make sure my mother and I were warm in his absence.
Brian will be home soon. Flames are dancing on the log. He never had a hearth growing up, so it’s nice to share this with him.
We’ve been talking about the future lately. He likes to hear where I envision us in 10 years. The answer is always the same: somewhere with land and woods, preferably a little water; a place with a porch and maybe even a chain saw of my own so he can watch the really big trees fall.