Tag Archive | impermanence

a Woodstove

“…she sits in solitude for awhile in the deep murmuring quiet of her house, fire humming steadily in the woodstove, the whispered crash inside as a burning log breaks to cinders, coals fall to the grate, the occasional deep breath of the dog on the rug before it, the rainy click and whirr of the fan on top; the woodstove alone creates its own little ecology of sound.” 

For more than half my life, I’ve been grateful for a woodstove as my primary source of heat. It’s kind of like meat: As an ethicarian, I eat meat if I know who killed it. I burn wood if I know who cut it. There are complexities and complications around anything that I’m going to be grateful for, and wood heat is just one of many. But I’m grateful for the woodstoves in my life, the three I’ve owned and the several many more I’ve tended at other people’s homes. Each woodstove, practically each fire, teaches me something new.

This little stove has four air controls: the front doors, an underneath damper, a back damper, and the ashpan door. I think that means there are 16 or 64 variations on how and where I can let in air. Something like that: a lot of options to control airflow.

I’ve learned that the more options for oxygen intake a stove has, the more control I have of the fire. I’ve learned that a top-loading option is a good thing for an older person, and I’ll be sure to get one if I ever buy another woodstove. I’ve learned how to start a fast fire first time-every time with the proper configuration of paper, kindling, and logs: there are more than one way, and I know how to tell with accuracy what will start readily and what won’t; I’ve learned how to resurrect a smoking mess in someone else’s fireplace and, very rarely, in my own woodstove. I’ve made friends with fire.

At least, with domesticated fire. No one really makes friends with wildfire, I think, except maybe some extreme firefighters. I’m grateful for firefighters, men and women who understand how wildfire makes its own weather, and lean into that, season after season. Once I did something good for a slew of wildfire fighters, and that’s one moment in my life I knew I was doing the right thing. I like a small, contained fire, in a cast-iron woodstove, heating my home.

Popis and Raven share the stove early this year.

This little Dovre replaced a big Fisher, my second woodstove, first in this house. It was given to me, and you don’t look a free woodstove in the mouth. I’m grateful for the friends who outgrew it, and let me have it for nothing in my new home. It could eat gigantic logs, almost Manor-sized. Imagine one of those six-foot-across fireplaces with an equally gigantic mantlepiece. It wasn’t that big, but could easily take a few two-foot long logs. It kept me warm for several winters, with many fond memories. Then I bought a much smaller, more fuel-efficient woodstove, with a catalytic combustor.

That was complicated, because I didn’t pay enough attention when I bought it to know that it required hardwoods, not pitchy pines and junipers. I’ve made-do for almost twenty years, burning a combination of soft, hard, and pitchy woods, and getting almost-yearly chimney sweepings. And I’ll make-do for a few more years. It’s still a great woodstove, though it’s suffered some ravages of time. One thing I’ll never buy is a woodstove without glass in the doors. The Fisher had solid iron doors, but my first woodstove, in the tiny homesteader cabin in Jensen, had glass doors, and I fell completely in love.

Ojo and Topaz share the heat last winter. Oh my god, how I miss that black cat.

A glass-doored woodstove brings together the best of a fireplace with the best of a stove: you can see the warmth without sacrificing heat. I love my little, efficient, glass-front woodstove for its heating capacity and its cheering warm light. I’m so grateful for this stove, for the wood that fuels it, for the people who have cut and split and delivered the wood, for the saws, axes, mauls and mallets that enable me to feed its fires, for the dead and down trees that lived and died to unintentionally provide me with fuel, for the kindling cracker that makes it safer and easier for me to cut wood down to starter-size, for the men who have taught me about chainsaws and the women who have inspired my confidence in using them. I’m grateful for the friends who sometimes ferry fuel from the woodshed to my front door, and for my ability to fetch it myself; for the wheelbarrows that have carried countless loads of firewood, and for the matches, endless matches struck against the iron or the sandpaper to light the paper, for the newsprint and tissue paper and bank statements that have ignited fires in these woodstoves for more than three decades.

That first woodstove. I’ll be eternally grateful for that tiny woodstove in that tiny log cabin, and for all that I learned about living while using it. Adaptability, for one thing. And how to pay attention. I’m grateful for Mrs. June Stewart, that pioneer Mormon grandma who rented me that little log cabin, and taught me how to use the little woodstove that came with it. I’m even grateful for my first real lover, who lived on the banks of the James River in Virginia, and was the first also to teach me the first thing about building a fire in a woodstove. I’m grateful forty years later that there is still deadwood, there is still a woodstove, still a life that needs its heat, still a house to heat, still a mind and body capable to feed a woodstove. I know this will not always be so.

The woodstove brings out the best in everyone. Topaz and Raven in a rare moment of sisterly compatibility. Little old Raven. All differences can be set aside. Who doesn’t love to relax and warm up in front of a cheery woodstove?

He’s My Little Black Cat…

Ojo in the apricot tree, August

Ojo cracked me up the other morning. I could tell the day before that he wasn’t feeling well. When he’s constipated, (and also preceding the loss of his first four lives), he contracts in on himself, curls into a tight ball, his cheek fur flares out because he pulls his head in like a tortoise, and he moves sluggishly if at all. He sat on the patio chair for an hour, refusing to come in even when I shook the treat can. Although it’s possible he was just pouting, because he’s an emotional little fellow. Either way, dusk was coming so I picked him up, tight little black ball, and carried him in, whence he disappeared and I didn’t see him for hours.

I mixed powdered psyllium husks into his dinner with extra water, and in the morning gave both cats a squirt of catnip-flavored laxatone instead of their first breakfast before letting them out. An hour later, I fed him his usual quarter can. Shortly, I took the dogs out, and called the cats for a walk. Ojo and Topaz both wanted to come in for second breakfast, but I said, No, you have to walk first, I want to see you poop.

So they came running along behind me and the dogs, sprinting past me in their usual tag-relay game, one or the other shooting up into a juniper occasionally. Ojo plopped down in the dusty trail and rolled, meowing, not unusual for him, but I missed that in this case it was the first sign that he didn’t want to walk. I rubbed his tummy fuzz and walked on.

Around the next curve he attacked my ankle, ran up meowing and grabbed my pants leg and gave a quick bite. I laughed and walked on, as he continued to meow, stomping along angrily behind me. A couple more times he lunged but I kept going; then he grabbed my ankle again, and this time he was very persuasive. He did not want to walk! Still laughing, I turned around and up the hill. He shut right up and walked a yard in front of me the whole way home, where he got another quarter can and so did Topaz, and then they sprawled on the living room rug at total ease.

I draw some firm lines with them. I won’t feed them before first light, or let them out before sunrise; both must be in before sunset. Both those lines ensure my peace of mind in different ways. Experience with numerous cats has taught me that if you give a cat an inch in the morning, you’ll be getting up earlier and earlier to feed it until you’ve lost two hours of your usual sleep. On the sunset line, if these cats aren’t in by dark I won’t sleep until they are. They seem to take turns, one every few months, trying to get away with it.

But in a moment like that morning, when one of them had such strong feelings, I was happy to change my plan to accommodate his need. They ask for so little, and give so much. I still see in them the kittens they were, and also imagine the old cats I hope they will survive to become. But I know cats only have nine lives, and around here those can go pretty fast. So I treasure every day with them, and accept their their little quirks and demands, and do my best to keep them happy.

I had a psycho calico for 16 years, and the motto during her first year became, Dia gets what Dia wants. If she didn’t, she was intolerable. Her needs weren’t unreasonable, just, like Ojo’s this day, different from my desires. She deepened my understanding of how my cats’ health and happiness contribute to mine. Dia the Psycho Calico on the canyon rim with my mother, c. 1998
Ojo and Popis share a lap this summer
I love a cat who lies on his back and lets you rub his tummy
Ojo helping me knit
Ojo helps dust the hard to reach places
Ojo brings in dust so I have something to do
Ojo helps with a puzzle
Ojo inspects the goldfish
Ojo tests the woodpile for stability

Ojo and his siblings are four and a half years old next month. They all remain happily alive in four neighborhood homes, although Ojo has been whisked from death’s door four times (that I know of). Topaz has not. She is self-sufficient, often aloof, and sweet as pie. He is a perpetual surprise, a spoiled mama’s boy who wants what he wants when he wants it, and won’t take no for an answer. They still make me laugh every day.

Naturally, I shot a lot of video of these kittens in their first ten weeks of life…