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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Thing Ralph said to me: I miss snow.

Thing I would never have thought Ralph would say to me: I miss snow.

He said this last winter, as I looked out over the frost-covered drear that is Tennessee in January.

Fast forward to a few days ago as we were writing our daily aspirations on our countdown/count-up chalkboards. He wrote: never go a year without seeing snow.

I sensed a recurring theme.

The thing about Tennessee is that it does snow here. Usually in the form of a fraction-of-an-inch dusting that puts everyone into a panic, shuts down the entire state and leaves you with ice covered roads for the next two weeks until the temperature finally warms up enough to melt it.

Last year it snowed more here than it did in all of New York and New Jersey, in cumulative dustings that were so traumatic to a state that owns zero snow plows that it started to feel like the Covid lockdowns all over again.

Nothing was plowed. Nothing was sanded, nor salted. I literally don’t think there are any plows here to begin with. “Sanding” is a thing they do to your closet door when you tell them they cut the bottom of it crooked, and nobody came out with so much as a single container of Morton’s.

I was not missing snow.

But this is not the snow blog. You’d be forgiven for thinking so, but that was all setup to get to the point, which is this: snow is just the window dressing. Neither of us wants to plow, shovel, make snow angels, ski, or venture out into it.

The thing we both agree that we really miss is the being inside when it snows. And the thing we miss even more is having a fire to keep us company.

Welcome to the fire blog.

Fire comes in so many excellent forms. There’s fire in the pit on your patio, the kind that can toast your marshmallows. There’s fire on birthday candles, melting wax all over your cake while you consider the best way to phrase your wish.

There are those few seconds of blazing glory when someone sets your absinthe on fire and the sugar melts into it.

And now it’s that time of year when the wood burning stoves get fired up and the fireplaces get swept out and the logs get split and the newspapers get saved in a bundle of twine so fire can keep you toasty at night.

When I was very little, there was no fireplace in our apartment. My only experience with fireplaces was during Christmas when my parents would put up the cardboard one with the paper flames so we could hang stockings.

When we moved to Mahopac, there was a real fireplace. It was an excellent stocking hanging spot, and also happily ate our Christmas trees when the season was over. My father would make bright, roaring fires and we’d sit close and bake our cheeks.

When I got married, I was once again relegated to an apartment with no fireplace, but our condo had one – gas. Which passes for something being on fire but isn’t really a fire.

Still, it was a welcome companion on those frigid winter evenings when everything was dark dark dark most of the time. Our cats loved the fireplace. We put a soft rug in front of it and they’d scoot up against the grate and roast themselves. I’m surprised they didn’t combust. Sometimes their fur got so hot you could cook a pizza on it.

Once, after watching my boy cat lay there upside down with his whole side pressed against the grate like a furry sausage on a roller, I decided to try it for myself. I got on the floor, lay on my back looking up at the empty ceiling, and let the fire do its thing.

I tell you what. It didn’t make me mad.

I wouldn’t say the two of them fought over the space. But they would certainly make their desires known. One would be lying peacefully upside down and the other would stroll by nonchalantly. Next thing you know one cat is swatting and one is hissing and one is pouncing and one is running.

That was the Changing Of The Guard. Lucky for me, the displaced cat usually got comfortable on my lap and shared some of that residual warmth.

Now we’re back in an apartment and there is no fireplace, no cat, and no snow to speak of. It seems rather like a very, very sad clown.

Olema was the first place where Ralph and I had real fire. And I don’t mean the kind torching fields and forests and towns, although there was quite a bit of that, too. There was a wood burning stove in our cottage and even though it was the hottest summer anyone there could remember, and even though it was still summer in October, Ralph got his Walden on and made a fire every night.

There was a big pile of wood outside, and a basket full of newspapers in front of the door, and a little black kitty in the front yard that we were told not to spoil by letting him inside, but did we listen?

Being the first fires we had ever actually made for ourselves, we knew nothing about making fire beyond what you vaguely know from movies and watching other people. It’s surprisingly difficult to get newspaper to play nice with logs. The newspaper would fwoomp up in a glorious flame, and a bunch of embers would fly around, and that would last for a minute or two and the whole thing would fizzle out.

We did that a hundred or two times, making so much smoke that the property owners knocked on the door and politely asked us to stop suffocating the entire town.

After a bit we got pretty good at it.

Right after we left Olema we stayed in a suite in a lodge that had not one, but two real wood burning fireplaces. Housekeeping would leave firestarter logs at the door in the morning and we’d use those and call for more.

That was truly a transcendent experience. The weather was still far from cold, but it was cooler there, and our room was at the top of a waterfall with a spectacular view. Everything was dark wood and plush carpets, like a lodge should be. And the lighting was dim and cozy. There were a couple of lamps but not a single overhead light, no television, and if you wanted to read at night you had better have brought a clip-on.

That made it absolutely perfect for two roaring fires. We’d sit by one and squint with our books for a while, then get into our king-sized canopy bed and watch the other.

Most of our spare time that we weren’t making fires or having drinks in their cozy firelit attic restaurant was spent chasing housekeeping down for more logs. They were quite familiar with us.

Once, we got a little too ambitious, or perhaps careless, and forgot to open the flue properly. The fire exploded with a burst of ash and soot, quite literally covering us like chimney sweeps and everything else in the room with a layer of black dust.

We called housekeeping to explain what had happened and slunk off to wait as they mopped and swept and dusted.

Fires were hard to come by after that. There is a gas fireplace in Brigantine but to date I have not figured out how to get it working.

We did stay with a friend last year who is a contractor and built his own home, and instead of putting in a heating system he put in multiple wood burning stoves. This sounds crazy until you realize that he spends zero dollars on electricity to heat his house all winter, and it’s like living inside an oven, with blazing fires going day and night. In other words, the perfect place for me.

That was the last time we enjoyed a good roaring fire.

I haven’t thought a whole lot about it until recently when Ralph painted that mental picture of sitting by a fire on a snowy evening. In spite of my sun-loving tendencies, I could really get behind that. As long as there was some hot tea, and maybe a cookie, I could be quite happy with that. Throw in a cat and I won’t be moving until spring.

Photo: our blazing inferno at the lodge. Unexploded.