Burning wood soothes the soul. Just watching the flames flicker and dance can be a relaxing experience. The heat penetrates and warms the body and does wonders for the human spirit. No other heat can create the magic like the smell and warmth of a good wood fire.
Unless of course you are a teenage Missouri farm boy charged with the responsibility . . . along with your brother . . . of cutting and splitting that wood. Splitting wood with a sledgehammer (maul) and steel splitting wedge can be an emotional outlet . . . downright liberating. Then having to carry the resulting pieces from the wood pile into the house each night can be a lesson in humility.
Ask any young boy to describe such a routine chore and I have no doubt the word “fun” won’t be used anywhere or anytime in his response. But I must admit, the experience will create memories.
Recent events in Texas have pushed such memories to the forefront of my memory bank. As we’ve struggled through record cold temperatures, the experience has allowed me the chance to relive some of those winter days growing up on our farm outside Auxvasse, Missouri. We burned wood for most of our heat. Yes, there was a kerosene heater that sat in the middle of our kitchen, but mostly we burned wood.
While other kids my age spent their Saturdays enjoying the idyllic pursuits of autumn, my brother and I along with our dad cut wood in preparation for the coming winter. I hated (okay extremely disliked) picking up branches and using them to build brush piles. I still don’t like that job. Brush piles used by rabbits and other wildlife for their own winter shelter. And I didn’t much care for splitting wood into smaller, usable pieces either. Today, they have mechanized log splitters and YouTube videos on how to properly split wood. Are you serious? Drop a five pound steel wedge on your foot or have the sledgehammer glance off that wedge into your shin and your use of the English language will take on whole new direction. You won’t need a video or dictionary to get you there.
Early this week in Texas, I awoke in my all-electric home to discover we had no power. So as temperatures plummeted . . . spiraling downward in a free fall toward uncomfortable if not dangerous levels, I found we had no source of heat. The power was gone for me, my wife who “extremely dislikes” cold weather, and thousands of our Texas neighbors. Yes, there was a brief glimmer of hope. The lights flickered once then twice then actually stayed on for about 10 seconds before disappearing to wherever unused electricity goes to hide. Along with it went all the heat, water and anything else related to electric power.
I flipped the light switch in my closet . . . caught myself in the act of foolhardiness and had to laugh. Maybe if I could just find my electric space heaters—.
Amazing how we’ve become creatures of convenience. We take for granted little things like flipping a switch to have instant light or turning up a thermostat for greater warmth.
We were left with a seldom-used fireplace as our only source of heat. There were a few pieces of wood purchased at a local hardware store . . . mainly for show. I mean who has a fireplace with no wood laying nearby and even a few self-starting artificial logs. No gas starter or even a few pieces of kindling. My wood was purchased for one of those “now and then” kind of fires not the full-scale survival of the worst and coldest weather in recorded Texas history.
My wife Sonja and I were married last June on a beach in Florida between squall lines of Tropical Storm Cristobal. We sold our house in Georgia and bought another one in Texas then moved during the worst pandemic in recent history . . . maybe ever. This year (2021) had to be easier. Now this!
Memories of my youth swept over me like the advancing chill of this Texas night. What I wouldn’t give to hear my late father tell me “Philip, the wood bin is empty.” Then watch him stoke our wood stoves for the night . . . adjusting the dampers like only he knew how to do to control the burn for enough heat until morning.
We had no power for about 36 hours as temperatures hovered in the single digits. Wind chills raced for minus double digits below zero. I could chalk it up to research. My next book entitled Where Cold the Waters Run is set in a Wyoming winter. How better to accurately describe frostbite and cold feet? I think not. Instead I longed for those warm wood burning stoves of my youth.
Snow and ice covered roads only made things worse. Accidents were commonplace. There were a few grocery stores open but they were soon overwhelmed. Most had to close. Restaurants already hit hard by fewer customers due to Covid-19 restrictions were forced to close . . . most with no power.
Fortunately, we were able to spend one night with my daughter-in-law and her family. They had power and . . . oh my goodness a beautiful wood-burning stove along with a healthy stack of ready-to-burn firewood. Awe yes, maybe those long days of cutting and stacking wood I disliked so much weren’t so bad after all.
The electricity came back on hours later but somewhere in all this there’s a lesson. And when I finally thaw out I’ll find a wood-burning stove . . . sit down and try to figure out what it is.