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Wood-stove warms home, kindles family ties

December 17, 2013

Wood-stove warms home, kindles family ties

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

Winter in New England is cold. So two years after the infamous Halloween blizzard delivered a foot of snow, frigid temperatures and widespread power outages, we finally bought a wood burning stove.

After painstakingly researching our options, I was thrilled when a colleague offered to sell his lightly used stove, the same model we had decided was best for our home, at less than half the retail cost.

Propping a ladder on the porch roof, shoving a 25-foot stainless steel liner down the flue while tethered atop the chimney, and swearing like a pirate when it got stuck, made the purchase even more memorable.

Heating with wood is familiar to me. My self-reliant father taught me the benefits of this ancient practice during my youth, though I did not fully appreciate it at the time.

When my grandparents sold the land that served as a rural refuge from their suburban lifestyle, my father inherited the potbelly stove that had heated the farmhouse for decades. Drafted into his service, I assisted as he cut holes through the living room ceiling and roof, clung to shingled-pitch while inserting pipe down to the stove, and learned creative combinations of words not fit for school.

Newly restored, with polished pewter trimmings and shimmering Isinglass windows, the stove was gilded. Roughly 5 feet tall, it held a mass of wood that, when not carefully tended, produced so much heat we would prop the front door wide open in January.

In youthful bliss I was proud of that stove, failing to realize I had been conscripted into years of wood duty: Cutting, loading, unloading, splitting, stacking and transferring hardwood to appease the insatiable appetite of the stove. Even so, I was drawn to the work.

The physical labor and quiet woods tamed the angst of my body and mind. My father cut while I hauled and stacked, the shared labor and accomplishment tempered the father-son tensions of my teen years.

For more than three decades now, my father has fed that stove free wood. Self- employed his flexible schedule and resourcefulness are assets, allowing him to stray from his work when opportunity presents itself, hauling away what tree crews gladly leave behind or harvesting those felled by storms.

I have readily adopted his ways. In the past two years I’ve laid claim to a sugar maple left in our yard by a city crew, harvested two from a neighbor and two more from a friend across town.

At day’s end, needing a break from the confinement of my home office and the escalating cries of sibling rivalry, I head outside for some wood duty. Swinging the maul I work through the pile of logs while enjoying the cool autumn air and quiet of my own mind.

Waiting impatiently at a safe distance, 4-year-old Adam races to my feet when I rest, grabbing a load of wood and proudly sets about stacking the split pieces on wood palettes, working off his pre-dinner rambunctiousness in the process.

Noticing the mound of loose bark around the chopping block, Adam informs me, “It’s time to load the wheel barrel!” After we schlep a few loads to the scrap heap he quizzes me while we pause for a drink of water.

“Is the ax sharp?” “Can an ax chop ice?” “Is the ax heavy?” “Oh, sure,” I reply to each, feeling relaxed and agreeable.

Satisfied for now and eager to return to stacking, Adam says: “When are we gonna get back on the wood, Daddy?” And so we work side by side until nightfall, retreating to the living room with Mama and Big Sister, warming ourselves in front of the stove, ready for the next big Nor’easter.

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