Blog: Day 3 Heating with Wood: A Part-time Marriage

It is Day 3 of my 365 Days of Living Deliberately.  I spent so much time at the computer yesterday trying to learn the technology which I need and want to use for this blog that I ended up with my back and hip hurting terribly.  That’s the thing about being over sixty with compressed discs.  There is no comfortable position to stay in, so being in a sitting position at a computer for very long isn’t good for me.  As I’m living deliberately this year while I’m blogging about living deliberately, I am going to be limiting my time at the computer to short sessions followed up by walking and other movement and exercise.

Another thing about living deliberately is that the process involves both the concrete and the abstract of living. When  the philosopher Thoreau went to the woods to live deliberately, he went with an ax and some tools for building his cabin. He built a fireplace and chimney and furnished his room with bare essentials. He simplified his surroundings so that the economy of his physical life would allow room for an extravagantly rich spiritual and psychological life.  Below, is Thoreau’s own description of the contents of his one-room home:

              “My furniture, part of which I made myself, and the rest cost me nothing of which I have not rendered  an account, consisted of a bed, a table a desk, three chairs, a looking-glass three inches in diameter [mirror], a pair of thongs and andirons, a kettle, a skillet, and a frying-pan, a dipper, a wash-bowl, two knives and forks, three plates, one cup, one spoon, a jug for oil, a jug for molasses, and a japanned lamp….A lady once offered me a mat, but as I had no room to spare within the house, nor time to spare within or without to shake it, I declined it, preferring to wipe my feet on the sod before my door.”

Yet, for all Thoreau’s adherence to simple living, he wasn’t an idle dreamer just sitting around thinking, philosophizing, and writing about nebulous concerns. He was a surveyor by trade, a carpenter, and man of practical talents.  Most of his life he lived in Concord with the amenities of a small town of its time (1810-1860). His experiment with living sparsely for two years in a cabin in the woods allowed Thoreau the opportunity to “front only the essentials,” which included keeping warm and alive throughout the long, cold New England winters.

Thoreau was living deliberately, alright, gathering starter wood and fallen branches, cutting firewood, hauling it, stacking it, burning it, emptying out the ashes from it, and checking his chimney. It takes a lot of human energy to heat with wood, and that’s why it’s said that we are heated three times in the cutting and splitting, the hauling and stacking, and in the burning of fire wood.

I know from personal, deliberate-living experience about all this work that heating with wood requires. In the winters, I am married to my wood stove. I keep it going, day and night, mostly dampered down to conserve wood and because I don’t really like a very hot house.  I keep my bedroom cold.

Still, I love the kind of heat I can get with a wood stove when I want and need it.  For example, in the morning, a few minutes after I open up the dampers, I can see flames jumping, and I can hear a chugging sound as the fire builds.  By the time I have fed my dog, Mia, and made myself a cup of coffee, the wood stove is radiating a wonderful heat that people in all ages anywhere would appreciate.

In such moments, wood heat is the best, a kind of  consummation of a marriage.

Yet as the winter passes, my close relationship with my wood stove diminishes.  By spring, I am looking for a six-months’ separation as warmer days make sweeping up bark and wood chips more annoying and cleaning the chimney and wood stove more unacceptable ways to spend my time.

Today, however, January 3, 2014, I welcome my wood heat with gratitude.  An extreme Arctic front is moving into the eastern United States, temperatures are dropping radically, and the coldest temperatures of the season are on their way.  I can’t complain; North Carolina winters are not usually as extreme as they sometimes were when Ken and I first moved here as evidenced by these photos below of our skating on the pond.

In the first photo I am skating with my friend, Laura Bennie Davis, on our Ferruccio pond. In the second photo, Ken,  is hot-dogging as he shows off his skating prowess that he honed as a child growing up in the woods and on ponds much like Walden near his home in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

It’s been years since our pond has frozen over hard enough to skate on; in fact, in the more than thirty-five years that Ken and I have lived here, I can probably count the number of times on one hand that our pond has solidly frozen, and most of these times were in our early years.  In subsequent blogs, I will surely be addressing the obvious discussion of changing weather and climate patterns and the perils of global warming that is being exacerbated by human activity.  I will considering what Thoreau might say and do if he were one of our contemporaries. what he might say to us as as individuals, communities, states, and nations concerning what we can do to help save the planet from environmental disaster.

The year before the photos below were taken, Ken and I had met Laura Bennie and her former husband, Charlie Davis, at Ocracoke Island which is part of the North Carolina Outer Banks.  After two days of riding horses on the beach with them and experiencing a magical timelessness, a terrific Atlantic storm destroyed our tents, and Ken and I completed our summer vacation in Warren County.  The next year, in the dead of a winter that shut the public schools down in Columbus, Ohio — my home town and where Ken and I had been living — and after I was “temporarily” laid off of teaching, Ken and I moved to Warrenton, stayed with Laura Bennie and Charlie for a month, looked for jobs, and found our Afton cabin in the woods. Our attempt at deliberate living began with this move.


Ken, who grew up in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, near woods and ponds like  Walden, grew up skating and was a good skater.

Ken, who grew up in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, near woods and ponds like
Walden, grew up skating and was a good skater.