A house is no home unless it contain food and fire for the mind as well as for the body.
HUMAN BEINGS HAVE BEEN HUDDLING AROUND WOOD FIRES since the day we discovered we could put one out. While other creatures flee in terror from flames—or perish in their fatal attraction—our species sees fire as safety and warmth and togetherness. To humans a wood fire radiates warmth in both senses of the word, so we welcomed it into our homes and made it a center of attention at the fireplace, where we’ve set a fancy stage just waiting for fire to do its act.
Autumn’s letter ended with me consoling myself near a fire while Mother Nature stormed around outside righting the wrongs of a long drought. Now it is winter and I’m about to depart for my mountain cabin, where one big snowstorm after another has buried all signs of humanity except the transmission wires, the tops of their poles, and the wind-swept face of my cabin. There is no car access. The electric company says power may be restored sometime in April. Up there, at times like this, a wood fire accounts for more than comfort.
You’re asking yourself what kind of fool puts himself in a situation like that. I’ve written before of my affliction with the cozy gene. Besides, there are others who enjoy being holed up in a warm shelter while a storm rages, and a few live near enough to visit and don’t mind bringing up a cup of sugar or a bottle of wine in their ski packs. Powerless this visit, the real test will be my ability to remain sane without constant enlightenment from the shining screen of knowledge and wisdom and lies according to the Gospel of Google. The disconnect might even save a few friendships that teeter due to political histrionics overload on Facebook. Or I may devolve to Jack Torrance.
The cabin fire, dancing in the belly of a small Jøtul woodstove, is my best friend. It is like a pet alien life form, appearing out of nowhere to dance to its own music, warm the space, do a little cooking, suck up my air, consume log after log—then rise and vanish in smoke when I don’t give it enough attention. But my friend does indeed have magic. If you gaze at flames long enough you understand where Carroll got the idea for Through the Looking Glass.
Like my cabin, a bungalow is more or less themed around a love affair with fire. It is a place of warmth in both senses of the word. You see it right away in the bookcases that flank the fireplace. Or in the inglenook. The mantel is a kind of altar. And the floor-level hearth is very popular with couples and sleeping dogs. Of course not all bungalows have fireplaces, but they generally radiate warmth just the same. Even if you can’t be near a wood fire, dinner by candlelight in a cozy nook has the magic.
Your life may not depend on it, but keeping the home fires burning adds genuine quality to life, especially when you sit back to enjoy the warmth of reading near the hearth—which I hope you are doing now. If you happen to be cuddling instead—this can wait.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Issue 90, Summer 2016