I am fortunate to live in a home of two hearths, one positioned in the more predictable enclave of the living room with another, better still, situated in a more wonderfully ancient way ~ within the bedroom. I can only imagine our fore-bearers sleeping with considerable more peace as so many rooms where filled with the rhythmic, warm company of an ember’s conversation. In modern times, we pour the world upon our bedsheets~ then pray their incessant chatter keeps to a minimum so that we can find some rest. However, most often, they infuse our tortured evenings with the murmurings of things undone.
But tonight, with full enthusiastic embrace of a pending snow, I trod out to our woodpile to begin the ritual of “restocking” our hearths and home in preparation of it’s arrival. A crisp, thin crust of snow had arrived the day prior, and helped fill the air with the unencumbered silence that only a clear winter’s night can bring. I stared up from under the overhang of my woollen scully to view the deep Maxfield Parrish New Hampshire night-sky blue, for a moment , and realized just how much I love the advent of the true cold in New England, and its wonderful capability to convey an ancient, heartfelt stillness that defies the momentum of time. Sound and progress seem to take shelter under such conditions and I am more than happy to embrace the brevity of its vintage rewards.
My regimen is a simple one ~ to route a fresh supply of ready hardwood to all support areas of the hearths. A robust ring of steel upon the porch. An ornate container upon the living room floor. A deep burnished basket of leather upon the bedroom hearth. All were exhausted and fully unprepared for the pending requirements of a healthy snowfall. To complete my final replenishment, a rich stock fully poised upon the hearth rack ready to ignite. To me, there never seems to be enough of the wood within my home to feel satisfied and I can fully understand the broad mantled expressions of our colonial ancestors by the handy and subtle inclusion of storage bins adjacent to beehive ovens and hammered iron spits. Quite simply, to see all avenues of storage, of heat and hardwood, fills a man with a sense of fulfillment & care for his loved ones that was likely hardwired within our psyche since primeval times.
Despite my welcoming of the frigidty of such nights~ my fingers , my index and thumb more precisely, did not share in my romanticism. My habits graviate to the fingerless styles of hand coverings, and more recently, the simple yet inventive introduction of the “carpenters” glove. These masterworks of long overdue design cover all digits less the last knuckle of the thumb and forefinger so as to grip most anything. Unfortunately, with all its utilitarian purpose, clearly a cumbersome inclusion would be the infusion of bulk necessitated by insulation~ thus rendering it a wee bit inflexibility to a skilled man with a hammer & machined pine. As such, they are horribly thin for polar activities ~ especially separating fused splits of oak. After filling my first wheelbarrow my hands were all too happy to oblige my own infusion of practical sensibility thereto manifested in thick cowhide and shearling. Immediately, my fingers now felt an enjoyment solely reserved, until that time, by my heart & mind alone.
So there, amongst the darkness and the frozen clouds suspended, I furrowed the snow with my narrow wheel, deeply incising the earth like a farmer forgetting the proper protocol of the seasons. As each rack rose in patient, mottled organization, I realized, with each log carefully laid, just how much I must have loved stacking blocks as a child ~ for my zeal for piling wood or stone reaches near obsession and my enthusiasm equal for its chathartic & zen like rewards. Its a curious thing indeed ~ perhaps my closest leaning over the rail of obsessive behaviors. But I do find something endlessly relaxing in the toil extracted and the crude symmetry required in fitting such inconsistent and ill shaped objects. Knots, knees and bent grain ~ they all refuse linearity like strident teens ~ never vocal, but always resisting passively.
Patterning is critical to this expression. Taking hundreds of similar-sized items and forming them into a larger geometric vision ~ each like an ink dot of a grander artistic work where one cannot absorb it until one steps away. In stone, it can be breadth or curve but I am ever constrained by an awareness of its permanence past my own mortality. In wood, its glorious transience provides for liberalism in execution. Just a few weeks prior to this night, I finished construction of a rectangular straight-edged silo. At almost 5 foot square and 6 feet in height, it looks more like an over-sized bee box and, catering to this odd obsession of mine, a first of its kind for me. Unknown to the viewer it is more patchwork quit than uniformed approach. It is, in actuality, a set of 5 individual rectangular silos ~ interwoven through converse patterns with each layer applied. It is as structurally sound as it is an effective use of space and will surely provide the chipmunks a wonderfully and protective residence for the winter months ahead.
For me, the increasing steam of my breath imparts the spirit of this frozen time and with the placement of my last log upon the andiron’s cradle, my night of wood and moonlight sadly concludes.