This morning, the house grew cold as I let the fire in our wood stove dwindle. When it was nearly dead, I pulled apart the stove pipe and stretched my arm deep down its throat to loosen the rattling creosote. With a shovel, I removed the ashes from the stove, then vacuumed the damper vents at the back, so the air will flow again. In the baffles at the top, I reached between the metal and fireproof insulation and pulled out handful after handful of silty, warm brown ashes, silky as kittens. I kept thinking of Megan Mayhew Bergman’s story “Housewifely Arts.”
This evening, after a day of snow and freezing rain and sleet, our hearth is rich with heat again, the children sprawled luxuriously on the rug. One of the interesting aspects of writing is a tendency to turn things upside down and inside out. Our stove is not merely a source of heat, but also consumer of wood and air, creator of ash, its lungs linked to the chimney funneling through our house. I once spent the greater part of an afternoon with a heating specialist who explained the inner workings of a nearby hospital, the channels of electricity and oxygen and water and waste, the circulatory system of an enormous building, generally unseen but vital.
Maybe it’s a day like this, when winter relinquishes its hold reluctantly, hurling ice at our windows in fury, that brings us back to our hearth again, gratefully.
There is no need to explain to our daughter the death of her first dog. Poppy, better than any of us, understands the urge to have what you must have. She can still wring what she wants from the world. It has listened to her cries and delivered. She still trusts the raw pull of desire. One day it will tear her away from us, take her down a dirt road to a place she does not recognize, and there she will make her home. Away from everything she understands, and close to everything she wants.
– Megan Mayhew Bergman, “The Two-Thousand Dollar Sock”