Sunday, October 26, 2008

First Fire

It is always an occasion when we have the first fire of the year. You notice it. The winter stove has, during the spring, summer and fall, been an extra counter space, a storage space, often as not a catch-all so it has to be cleaned off and all the stuff accumulated has to have a place found for it. The flues are cleaned -- although we’ve never gotten more than a teacup of soot out of them ever. Then the stove is itself thoroughly cleaned. I suppose people who are good do this in the spring but for us, it is a just before the first fire task. The ashes around the oven are cleaned out; the porcelain is scrubbed; the oven thermometer is polished; a new blade is put in the bow saw and we start scouting where the downed and standing dead wood is.

This takes a few days usually, in that we know weather is coming on, it has been getting cooler, there have been mornings and evenings when a fire might have been nice but we don’t mind not having one. We know that not having had one will only heighten our enjoyment of having one. It is so not like having a thermostat you set and it decides when to run. One day we decide that today is the day and we cut a creel full of wood. If I weren’t having technical difficulties, that’s what you’d have a photo of, a full creel. That is what means warmth to us. We cut a creel full of wood and light the first fire.

We put the tea kettle on the hob and that is also the beginning of always having hot water for tea. If the wood stove is going, I no longer have to have an oven full of stuff before I bake but I can bake, bread, pies, supper, anytime I decide to. I don’t, you see, heat up the summer oven without having a lot of stuff to bake in it -- I avoid that kind of waste if I can. And I can. So there.

The first fire this year was only a few days before the first frost. That was the end of the summer garden but only the beginning of the winter garden. The outside leaves of the larger cabbage plants responded to the frost by, at first, looking wilty and then, turning a different color and expanding back out. This is the plant making its own antifreeze. We had some very late squash again this year, but this year, unlike last, it didn’t get the chance to mature, so we have the delicacy of eating baked “baby pumpkin” for the next few weeks. We still had tons of green tomatoes some of which are getting dried and some of which are getting made into a green salsa.

The only thing we decided to save from the frost was the strawberries. We chose day neutral strawberries from which you get a small crop from spring until frost bites them. The strawberry bed had set on a nice little crop of white berries so we covered that bed in a sheet. Hopefully we’ll get those out in about a week or so.

I reckon we’ve had a fire at least part of the day every day since the first fire.


laura said...

well this sounds really wonderful. i love the ceremony, the ritual, the partyness of it. i love the way you guys always celebrate. i love the things you choose to celebrate, always have.

the first paragraph brought to my mind, just the edge of it...something about trees that i dreamt of last night and i can't seem to pull it completely to the front of my mind. i wonder what it was...

i still have not planted the winter cabbage. i look at the seed packet and it tells me nothing...just summer dates. it is so confusing. jess said i should go ahead with some garlic. i may do that.

Alan said...

People who live without fire are missing out on one of the wonders of life. True, it is more work, but what a connection to life. What a different dynamic at home when you know where to come to get warm. There is nothing more satisfying that sitting with your feet propped up on the hearth listening to the crackle of the fire after a long day of work. Enjoy the season.

J said...

; ) Woodsmoke is one of my favorite scents. We've cut and hauled many a load of wood. One year I ended up with poison ivy in the middle of winter. While stacking a lod of wood I got sweatie and must have brushed my forehead with a gloved hand that had been in contact with poison ivy. Even though it was 'dead' the sweat activated it.
Keep safe and watch for that bear.

CG said...

la, talk to the cabbages, or the seeds. They will tell you. Right now the seeds will probably tell you that they are an iffy proposition this time of year. Time to plant fall cabbage seeds is late July, August, even September. Planted now, you might could germinate the seeds on a windowsill, transplant into cups, harden off gradually, transplant out in late January, still have to cover with cloches at times, and then enjoy very early March or April cabbages.

A couple of things to try -- see if Mize or a local greenhouse if there is one and see if they still have any plants you can buy. Also, try kale, mustard, turnips (for tops), even spinach (the spinach will winter kill the greens but will come back early in spring to good big spinach). Depends on the weather of course. Now is probably the best time to plant garlic cloves (just buy the cheapest bulk bulbs, separate and plant) and onion seeds. You might find a few places that still have seeds available (try Mize and any other place that sells bulk seeds, often produce stands).

There are lots of things that are winter hardy but not a lot of things that want to start out their tender young lives in the cold.

I too love the warmth of fire and how the whole house is not the same temperature (which always seems exceedingly weird to me) and the rhythm of cutting the wood, filling the creel, timing the food depending on how hot the oven is.

A neighbor saw the bear the other day and gave us a call to warn us. A big bear he said.