Staying warm.

December 31, 2010 § 10 Comments

We heat with wood, and watching the chalk lines of smoke waver up from nearby chimneys I’d guess that many of our neighbors do too.

Heat from a woodstove is nothing like the ubiquitous warmth that purred out of the registers in the house where I grew up. A woodstove is a point source, its heat diminishing with distance from the stove.

When we first moved into our home on the southside of Tallahassee we had a U.S. Army barracks stove. Upright, it sat on its haunches like a trained bear. Huge and voracious its big belly had to be full to work well.

We fed the bear for several winters until we noticed that the metal below the cap had pin-holed and we could watch the fire without opening the lid. At about that time my husband, Ray, who cuts all our firewood, needed knee surgery which would make cutting enough wood to feed a huge stove hard.

We bought a stove that stands on all fours like a dog. Although smaller, it is far more efficient than our old trained bear.

If we had to buy wood the stove would be an expense, but we don’t. We own a piece of land with soil so sandy that at least one tree dies each year. Ray lets a dead tree stand a while so the wood seasons before he fells it.

This year’s tree is a Laurel Oak, last year’s was a White Oak, the year before another Laurel.  He remembers, having spent many hours in the company of each tree, cutting and splitting and loading the wood. We empty the trunk of the car at home, stacking the wood on the porch. A full porch is like money in the bank.

The fire belongs to Ray.  He cuts the wood. He builds the fire.  I use the fire’s warmth to raise bread and dry towels and occasionally to cook soup.  Throughout the day I wander into the stove room to heat up the back of my pants, then the front. I gather the heat in the folds of my clothes then return to my computer to work again.  I consult the fire when I’m low on ideas. I visit it when I need an excuse to stand up and stretch.

In summer the stove sits neglected, unless a Chimney Swift announces its presence with a desperate rattling in the stove pipe.  We now know to open the stove door with a towel in hand to wrap the bird.  But in winter the stove is the heart of our home.

It is almost bedtime, the temperature outside dropping—and dropping almost as fast in our bedroom which, behind a closed door gets no heat from the stove. To go to bed in that icy room takes courage and pajamas heated unbearably hot by standing in front of the stove. Charged with heat I dive between the sheets and lie very still until the heat of the fire transfers to the bed and I can unclench and drift into sleep.

By tomorrow morning the fire that warmed the house all day will have burnt down to ash and cinders which Ray will shovel into a bucket. The heat that radiates from the bucket is a good companion beside my chair while Ray builds a new fire, and another day begins.

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§ 10 Responses to Staying warm.

  • The first fireplace I remember stood in silence in the living room of the McCart Street house in Fort Worth, TX. With the chimney bricked over and painted, it no long accepted wood for burning. Instead, in the niche left behind, a gas stove provided the heat the room needed. I didn’t worry, though, because Santa had a key to our house — yes he did! Daddy told me so!

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  • Leigh M. says:

    The house where I was born had a huge old oil heater downstairs in the back, and one skimpy vent to the floor of the upstairs hall where our bedrooms were. The vent was about 8″ by 14″, and my brother and I would jump out of our beds into the freezing air and race each other to the vent where we’d jostle and bump and elbow for position. The victor got to stand over the vent luxuriating in the warm stream of air as he dressed. Being 4 years younger I usually didn’t win, but if I knew if I fought hard enough, I’d be a little warmer climbing into my clothes anyway. Besides, no self-respecting southern girl is going to let her brothers push her around. Stay warm, Adrian.

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    • My grandmother had a floor grate large enough for two little girls in long nightgowns to stand on. My sister, Claudia, and would stand on it until our nightgowns inflated with warm air, then we would walk around in bells of heat looking like miniature blimps.

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      • This is such an evocative post. I love the image of going back to the fire for ideas & warmth. Long away readers should know that Florida has experienced some mighty Artic feeling evenings of late.

        A digression – treat yourself to this gem:
        It is Adrian, properly featured on the day after Christmas. in her hometown newspaper Sunday magazine!
        http://www.tallahassee.com/print/article/20101226/LIVING/12260309/Author-artist-helms-Front-Porch-Library-for-kids

        Back to radiant heat.
        I remember that grate – from my childhood house. Dad lifted it up to climb down into the furnace area, wearing his mechanic’s overalls. It would brake down often & we relied on it for our warmth as the stove in the kitchen, like Adrian’s today, didn’t reach thru the house.
        The kitchen offered us a coal shovel, a coal scuttle bucket & a coal-burning stove that stood like the four-legged dog. Mom heated a tea kettle on the coal-burning stove & not much else. The gas stove for cooking stood next to it.

        Adrian, thank you for posting Staying Warm. It warms my heart.

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  • Wow, you are even tougher than us. We have a cast iron wood stove out on our enclosed side porch but we have an electric heater in our bedroom and livingroom. But we still dress up to go to bed. We have complete sweat suits and long underwear. I can’t belive that we were both raised up North. I made my wife read your story. Now I don’t want to hear anymore complaining from her.
    We burn anything in our porch firplace. We have four acres to gather wood from. The first one up in the morning lights the fire.
    We bake bread too … but we have a bread maker. In fact we have two bread makers just in case one breaks. We love homebaked bread. We use it to make pizza dough too. Take care.

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  • Judy Ransom says:

    Reminds me of my brother’s place up in Michigan. He never turns his heat or A/C on. We’ve visited him a few Christmases past. It was 16 below outside on one visit, and he wouldn’t turn on the heat. Our kids had the good sense to arrange their sleeping bags ’round the wood stove, which had a big kettle of water on top, to add moisture to the air. The hubby and I were assigned a back bedroom … far, far away from the living room stove. I went to bed wearing long johns, a flannel nightgown, wool socks and a skull cap. I think I was in a catatonic state the entire time. This is why I no longer live up north. I may have been born there, but I was never meant for the cold.

    I do have fond memories of bath nights, though. Mom would place our clean, folded pajamas on top of the bathroom radiator, so we could slip into warm, toasty pj’s after a hot bath. She even had knitted caps for us to wear to bed, so our wet hair wouldn’t make us cold.

    Brrrrrr … I’m thankful to be a southerner now, and I don’t know how those northern folks survive.

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    • We have a pot of water on our stove that is refilled often throughout the day. A wood stove really dries the air–an unusual condition in Florida.

      I have fond memories of radiators up north too. Like a wood stove they are a friendly persence in a room.

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  • […] Here’s a link to an earlier post about heating with a wood stove you might […]

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