If you’ve read my High Desert Home blog, you know that for the 13 years we lived in that house, our only source of heat was the wood stove. So every single morning, when it was cold (and sometimes it was really cold), I built a fire, and I maintained that fire throughout the day.
A comfy green chair sat adjacent to the woodstove, and the dining room table was just a few feet away. That was the gathering place for friends and family. The green chair was the most vied for sitting spot in the house, and throughout the day in winter you would find family members continually congregating and talking beside the woodstove.
When friends came by, or when the families from the Tuesday morning meetings arrived at my house, shoes would come off by the door, and people would beeline for the wood stove to warm their hands and to visit. I don’t know what it is about having a fire in the house, but it draws people.
Again and again, I heard friends say, “It’s so cozy in here!” With snow falling outside, a cup of coffee or tea in the hand, and good friends gathered to visit, there’s already a nice feeling of warmth and camaraderie, but the fire in the woodstove added significantly to any feeling of coziness and warmth (literally and metaphorically) in the house.
I miss my woodstove. I miss the work of collecting and splitting wood and stacking it in the barn to keep us warm for winter. I miss bundling up and going out on frosty nights to fill the wheelbarrow with wood to bring to the back porch. Those clear, frigid nights, as I trundled the wheelbarrow back and forth along the neatly shoveled snow path, were sharp and lovely. Both the stars in the black sky and the icy, white snow sparkled like fields of diamonds.
Aaron was often out there, too, and he helped me with the wood or moved it himself. We both loved the cold, and we both loved the beautiful frosty desert nights.
I miss getting up in the early dark morning and walking outside to grab an armful of wood. The sky was almost always clear in the desert, so in morning, just as in the night, I would stand in the cold and look at the stars and thank God for His beauty and for a home to shelter us. Then I’d go back inside to build a fire so the house would be warm when the kids woke up.
I loved the routines of building that fire. I became quite expert, too, at the nuances and tricks of fire-building. I loved feeling the warmth build and move further and further into the room and the house. I’d brew my coffee, then sit near the stove each morning to have my quiet time—to read my Bible, to write in my journal, to think and to pray. It felt lovely and good, every single day.
Right there--the center of our old home.
The green chair is covered because it was ripping.
The woodstove is just to the right by that red bin, which held pieces of wood.
I miss a fire and a constant source of heat that draws people round it. The fact that we didn’t have central heating or even wall heating units in the far-flung regions of our home in the desert kept us all moving out of our separate rooms toward the woodstove again and again throughout the day. Or we brought our work to the table beside the stove and sat together while we each did our own thing. The wood stove kept us in close proximity, and it, without a doubt, kept us talking even more than we were already inclined to do. Truly, the woodstove was an appreciated part of our home and family atmosphere in those days.
My little apartment does not have a fireplace, a woodstove, or even central heating. It has small cadet heaters on the walls in each room. I turn off the heat at night, as I’ve learned to love sleeping in the cold, and in the morning, I get up, put the kettle on, and turn on the heater in the living room. Then I sit in the rocking chair beside it to read my Bible and sip my coffee. It’s obviously not as cosy as a woodstove, and the heater certainly has none of the charm or even the rhythms of work associated with it (it takes one second to turn that heater dial), but it’s warm in that spot, and that’s nice. I’m immensely grateful that I can be warm.
The woodstove is not necessary for a lovely morning routine and quiet time. That was then. This is now. I don’t want to try to fit that life into this one. I want to live in the life—the current situation—I’m in. What rhythms make sense for this time of my life, for this place where I live? What gifts has God given me here? How can I make this home a place to live well, a place that feels warm and comfortable? I may no longer be able to enjoy gathering wood in the crisp air while I stare at the starry night, but can I appreciate the cosy sound of pelting rain against the window as I sit and rock, sip coffee and read my Bible, in the dark quiet by the warm heater?
Loveliness is more a matter of the spirit than of the physical situation one is in. Gratitude and joy beget loveliness. An open, warm, caring spirit are the main ingredients of cosiness and conviviality, and that can exist in any home—however humble.
One of my all-time favorite books—a book about architecture and what makes places inviting, and relational—talks about fire. I love the passage. (It's down aways. Sorry. Got distracted by the following.) I’m not sure how practical keeping a fire is in today’s environment. Is burning wood the best source of energy, or do pollution concerns make it an unwise manner of heating?
Whatever the case may be, I’m glad that we had a woodstove in our high desert home. I’m glad for the work the woodstove required and for the rhythms that arose out of that work. I’m thankful for the warmth and cosiness that emanated from the stove, for the closeness that was built round it, and for the friends and family that gathered beside it often.
My mom has one of those little fake heater/fireplace things that can be moved around if a person wants to move it. I would have never guessed that something like that would have any appeal akin to a real fire, but guess where everyone goes when they’re at my mom’s house? Yep. To the chairs near the (fake) fire. We gravitate there by ourselves, and we also sit there together, with our drinks and our books. We warm ourselves by that “fire,” and we talk. It’s not a real fire, but it has flickering, warm light, and it gives heat, and somehow, it works.
But back to that book, A Pattern Language. An excerpt:
“Television often gives a focus to a room, but it is nothing but a feeble substitute for something which is actually alive and flickering within the room. . .”
Then the book quotes Gaston Bachelard about the kind of reverie that takes place before a fire:
“The fire confined to the fireplace was no doubt for man the first object of reverie, the symbol of repose, the invitation to repose. One can hardly conceive of a philosophy of repose that would would not include a reverie before a flaming log fire. Thus, in our opinion, to be deprived of a reverie before a burning fire is to lose the first use and the truly human use of fire. To be sure, a fire warms us and gives us comfort. But one only becomes fully aware of this comforting sensation after quite a long period of contemplation of the flames; one only receives comfort from the fire when one leans his elbows on his knees and holds his head in his hands. . . The child by the fire assumes it naturally. Not for nothing is it the attitude of the Thinker. It leads to a very special kind of attention which has nothing in common with the attention involved in watching or observing.”
Lovely. That kind of reverie matters. It is important, but is it only possible beside a fire? Well, a fire might really help, but surely we can create homes where we aren’t distracted by technology or hindered by a lack of livability (when a home is just too design-focused) and kept from quiet and contemplation.
Fill home with books, flowers, plants, cheery and casual living spaces, a table to gather round, items from the family history and travels, collections, art and music, good food, playing games, rhythms and routines, enough order, leaving margins for each person to do and be and think in his own way, reading together, creating together. . . oh, you know. You'll find your own way.
Just make a life, be grateful and joyful, and bring people into your home. Share your life. Share your Lord. And then if you don’t have a fire, you still have warmth and conviviality.