Wednesday, December 21, 2011


This fireplace. The insert. We installed it in 2007, four years ago, after the winter in which we got a $400 heating bill, and we've saved money ever since with our fireplace.

Our house, it's old. An old house. No insulation. The exterior walls are layered like this from the inside out:

Plaster --> Brick --> Stucco.

So we invested in a fireplace insert to help heat our home and keep the cold at bay. And now it means more than warmth. The Boy carries wood in with me. They ride around and around in the driveway while I split log after log after log. They ask me to come outside and split wood while they ride their bikes in circles nearby. Hanging out.

The older boy, seven now, has been learning to start a fire, and do so with one, single match.

It's a point of pride for him. The fire we have now was started by my boy and his single match three days ago..

He prepares by pulling small tinder...we call it "grump"...from the logs. Thin, fibrous ones. Thicker ones. Frayed parts of wood left on the logs from the splitting. He arranges them into a pile before him. He places two large logs into the fire place to insulate his "house of heat", then bundles a small handful of thing fibrous bits of "grump", leaning them against a log on the inner side of the two logs. He lights it, and slowly feeds it as he sings his house of heat song -- "house of of heat...I am building a house of of heat, house of heat...I am building a house-of-heat" He adds and adds more and more grump until the fire is large enough that he can blow on it without putting it out. Then he places a larger piece of wood on top of the hot core he's created...he pulls out the flu, closes the door and watches as the fire grows.

I watch him the whole time.

We're letting the three year old open the fireplace door, supervised, and add a piece of wood. I explain to him about fire exactly as I explained it to his brother: "The fire doesn't like being in this box," I tell him. "It wants to get out so it can cause trouble and burn things. But we need to keep it in there where it can keep our house warm. So we always keep the door closed, to keep the fire in here." And the flu "the fire needs to breathe, so we open this to give the fire some air. And we put the wood in to give it food."

The fire place, the insert, has become more than just a means to heat our home. Each child, despite warnings and efforts to keep them away, has once, and only once, absentmindedly touched the fireplace while hot.

Just once.

And now they keep a safe distance with respect but not fear, huddling near it on an early winter morning to dry off from a bath. And on a winter afternoon we bring wood in together. The tiny boy carrying one piece of wood. The less tiny one carrying three. And me with the tote of wood. We all help to bring in the wood that will heat our home for the next day. At night we sit near the fireplace and read stories: the Three Investigators, a Series of Unfortunate Events, Alice in Wonderland.

It's a sense of security against losing gas, and against high bills.

It's a gathering place. A place of learning. A shared task. A conceptual frame of reference for fuel and energy. They see the walls and walls and walls and walls of split wood required to heat our home. They play by those walls. Make forts near the walls.

The fireplace is a place of warmth, and a thing to be respected. This fireplace. It's a central part of the family. A presence in our home. Moreso than a furnace in the basement could ever be.

1 comment:

Martin Langeland said...

Sounds like you folks are just about ready for Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series. Lots of fire building camping and small boat handling set in the Lake District of England in the 1930's. But I recognized much of it by association with growing up on Mona Lake and the Big Lake. There are free ebooks on line and Godine has some handsome paperbacks.
Happy Holidays and thank you for your writing.