Above: The original wood-burning stove from our house is now in the barn. I enjoyed it so much this last Christmas (and so did my dad, brother, and niece).
From Giants & Pilgrims artist Betony Coons:
When I was a kid, we had a cow; a big, beautiful swiss jersey mix with carmel colored fur and deep pools for eyes with the longest lashes. She was a walking soul.
Her pasture was a brisk walk from our house, past the pond and through a tree-lined lane. On winter mornings like this one, we would load up a wagon with sweet smelling alfalfa hay, and walk down to her where she would be patiently waiting for her breakfast. Often, we would have to take a sledge hammer to break the ice on her water trough. This was always the worst part of the chore. The ice cold water would splash on your already chilled hands and face. It was messy hard work. But, there was no choice of not doing it. She had to have fresh water.
After feeding and watering the animals, we would hurry inside, strip off our snow suits and warm our hands by the roaring fire. There is nothing better than being out in the bracing cold, working hard, followed by the smell and feel of a roaring wood fire.
By roaring fire, I don’t mean your ordinary fireplace. My parents had a tank. Our house was a large, poorly insulated barn, so to heat it, it needed more than your typical dinky fire place. My dad got one of those large metal storage tanks like you would see in a farmer’s field and welded it into a forge of sorts.
I have been recently thinking about fireplaces this winter. In my mind I’ve been comparing the fire place I grew up with to the ones I’ve encountered since.
My parents’ fireplace was messy. First you had to shovel out the ashes, dusting anything nearby with gray powder. Due to the size of the door, you next had to use a splitting maul to break logs into smaller pieces – a process that made an ear shattering sound that will forever be in my memory of groggy morning wake ups. In the process of making a fire, your hands would get soot covered, your arms would be sore from hauling logs, and it took time as your stomach was growling for breakfast and your feet were like frozen blocks.
My sister just moved into a beautiful house in Lenexa, KS. It has one of those sweet gas fireplaces that you just have to turn a switch and it’s on. It still has flames, but you don’t have to fuss with the mess of ash and wood. I would love to have this in our house which has no fire place.
But, call me crazy, if I had the choice I’d take my parents’ fire place over this new one.
Because when you sacrifice the wood for the convenience of gas, you lose the smell. And what is tied more closely to memory than aroma?
Going much further into invention, I have also seen those inexpensive “fireplaces” that essentially are a projection of fire. They flicker pretty shades of orange and red, but you don’t have to worry about anyone getting burned and definitely don’t have to deal with the mess.
But, when you sacrifice the actual flame for a projection because it costs less and can’t burn you, you loose feeling. And what is more intimate and comforting than touch?
For that matter, there are even iPad apps made to look like fire place fires.
But, when you sacrifice messiness for convenience, something is lost.
Its more than just an experience of the senses. It speaks of our souls and our understanding of the world around us.
I am reading a book right now about running. One of the things they have discovered is that running shoes are bad for you. The nicer, more cushioned the shoe, the more likely you are to get hurt. The reason? The more separated and disconnected from the ground your feet are running on, the less awareness and understanding they have for it.
The thing about a real fire is that it burns, it makes ash, you can get hurt, you have to haul logs that hurt your arms. But it is one of the most beautiful complex constantly changing sights, it smells like real wood and smoke, you can taste it in the crisp air, you have to work your muscles to build it, you can feel the heat on your skin, you can hear the crackling of the tree burning. A real fire feeds our senses. A real fire feeds my soul.
I have three small children. I can certainly appreciate anything that makes our already chaotic life easier. But, in my story, I want to remember to choose the messy. I’d rather not be wooed by convenience. I want to search out the real, to soak up experiences with the wholeness of my senses. I want to be able to feel the ground I am running on.