When a fire can be so inviting

#177 in a series of true experiences in real estate
January 1997, Hills Newspapers

It’s cool and misty outside. Unquestionably, fire-in-the-fireplace weather.

I do love a fire. I enjoy tending it, watching it, listening to its soft crinkling, standing with my backside to it. I even like preparing for it.

Dry wood is the choice ingredient. It blazes up so fine. Lately I’ve had small pieces of old fence wood that I salvaged to start my fires. It’s ideal. On top I put a few small splits of acacia, then light it, and the fire rushes to life.

All year, as I work in the garden, I save twigs and branches, cut them to a nice length and store them upright in buckets in the sun. When they get all dry and perfect, I move them to the basement — my stash of kindling.

Not all of my stash though. My friend Peter is a carpenter and every once in awhile he brings me cuttings from the cabinet shop. This is Cadillac wood — clean and new. I rush to transfer the pieces from Peter’s truck where they lie every which way and bring them to organization. I sort them roughly by size, then tightly pack them, standing skinny sides together, in cardboard cartons.

I thank Peter for this gift that I would rather have than the queen’s jewel’s. He laughs, says I’m a cheap date.

Peter’s kindling is so beautiful that I can’t simply use it. I have to look at every piece, consider if I can let it go. I won’t let anyone else use any either unless I’ve first looked it over, set aside the smooth sticks of maple and oak for — what? I don’t know. I have quite a stack of them, just can’t let them go.

I also have lots of firewood stacked all over my yard. I move it around, sort it, and keep a good pile near the back door. This wood came from the acacia trees I had cut down a couple of years ago. There were cords and cords then but the supply is dwindling.

I fit the larger, oddly shaped pieces with knots and joints together at one end of my piles. At the other ends are neatly stacked the smaller, straighter and more uniform pieces. My favorites are splits about as big around as my arm and about as long. Although my fireplace can accommodate logs as large as an ox, I like these little, light pieces that make darting red and yellow flames.

Anet recently volunteered to split some of the acacia to my preferred size. This was pretty surprising because a year or so ago we tried splitting some acacia and completely failed. We stood pieces on end, raised the ax and swung hard. Clunk. Nothing much happened except an occasional nick in the end grain.

We sought advice. We watched while a friend with a sharper ax, better aim, and more experience succeeded at hitting the exact same spot on the logs, watched as they were sliced through. Splitting makes a most satisfying sound.

The acacia has aged and Anet can now split some for my pleasure. She splinters off sweet-smelling pieces. I stack them up and feel very rich for such treasure.

Are you ready to make your own fire? Our chimney man taught us how: Don’t use a grate. Build on a good bed of ashes instead.

Place two medium to large logs side by side, leaving a space of 6 to 8 inches between. Next crumple up six or seven single sheets of newspaper and put these in between the logs. Crisscross kindling on top plus one or two slightly larger pieces of wood, leaving plenty of air holes. Light the paper. When the stack is burning well, lean a larger log into the flames.

If the wood is dry, the fire will blaze easily, quickly, make you warm as toast.

Enjoy while you can. We hear EPA standards are threatening our use of our fireplaces.

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