Mr. Busy and the Wonders of Fire

I pull on a wool hat and down jacket, stuff my pajama pants into rain boots, and head out to the woodpile. My breath leaves a trail of tiny clouds in the frosted air. The wheelbarrow rumbles through puddles and over lumps of mud.

I throw back a tarp and, though I have seen the sight many times before, this time my heart swells.

The woodpile my husband Andy has been curating for several years is neat, precisely split and stacked, glowing yellow and dry. It’s abundant, seasoning and storing wood that will heat our home for several years to come.

Back in the house, I load the woodstove, strike a match, and flames fill the space, bringing comfort. They crackle and leap, dancing over grooves of growth rings, spitting when they hit sap in pine, more slowly but steadily enveloping oak that will burn for half a day.

I smile and lean in, reluctant to close the door between me and the flames. The fire is alive. It’s good company. My two cats join me at the hearth, all three of us pressed forward in heat-worship.

When we arrived home last night from four days of Thanksgiving visits, our house was a chilly fifty degrees inside. We heat only with wood, so there had been no timed pre-warming with central heat.

This morning, I am particularly grateful for this fire, in all its simplicity. I think of the trees and soil and air and rain and sunshine that spent years growing the wood now wrapping us in warmth.

I am grateful to this person I live with who spends hours throughout the year combing our property for dead but solid trees, cutting them up, hauling them over steep hillsides to the quad trailer, splitting, stacking, covering. Our friends and I joke that his doppleganger is Mr. Busy, the beaver from Lady and the Tramp. And the crazy thing is, for the most part, Andy doesn’t do this work out of a drudgerous sense of duty. He loves it. He calls it “chainsaw therapy.” He’s been known to go out on a dark, cold night after work and fire up the wood splitter to “unwind,” matching the sinews of his muscle with the steel blade.

Not only does he love to fill our woodshed with fuel, but he loves to walk the woods, on the lookout for which trees and stumps and limbs he can remove to leave the forest a healthier, more balanced place.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Yet, there have been times in the past when I have complained about his woodcutting obsession, particularly on weekends when I’m in the mood to laze around. “Spend that time with me! You don’t have to be alwaysgathering wood. Give yourself a break. Give mea break.” His single-minded focus and precise, clean-stacked piles have at times annoyed me, seeming overkill.

If I were heading up the firewood project, I’d probably work more in concentrated rushes of energy, not steadily through the year, and I’d build piles a bit more haphazard and tipsy. It’s just the way I naturally work.

And this is the way he naturally works.

Over time, I have learned to honor his need for solitude and physical exertion collecting firewood. He has a steady, intrepid work rhythm, and tidiness that I tease borders on OCD—and it often serves us well. It warms our cold mountain winters. In many ways, it serves to balance my rather messier, dynamic dance through the world, and visa versa.

It’s interesting how we can simultaneously push away and pull on the very thing that feeds us, isn’t it?

What sustains you? How do you fight it? How can you embrace it more fully? What beauty lies in that very contradiction?

After one day of feeding the fire, our living room is full of bone-warming heat, and all these things that conspired to bring it here make me feel inside much like my cats now look: limbs outstretched, tummies to the ceiling, trust bared to the heat-full air.

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