Friday, the fire in the wood stove gone cold, I shovel out the ash and discover two honeycomb boxes. I’ve been cleaning this stove for three years now, but I’ve never taken these pieces apart. The manual cautions me to be gentle. So I’m gentle.
The first essay I had published in a slick magazine, Taproot, was for their Wood issue. In those days, we burned countless cords of wood every year, for the few cords in our house to the many more to make maple syrup. Wood was far more verb than noun in our house; we did wood.
In my wooden house, whose floor joists in the basement still have ribbons of bark, on my maple floor, I empty ash and soot and creosote into a metal sap bucket. I kindle the fire with crumpled newsprint and ripped cardboard. The cats sprawl on the rug, satisfied as the heat suffuses our house again.
The late afternoon is raw and damp. So much snow has buried us in. I ski on a section of former railroad bed where I’ve never gone before, up a long slope fenced in by a cedar forest. There’s no one around, not a dog walker, not a snowmobiler, just me and the crows. At a crest, the valley below opens. I’m above a large dairy farm dug deeply by barns and fields and family generations into what had once been forest.
The sun has melted a section of trail to slush here. A cold wind blows down from the north. I stand here for a bit, stamping slush from a ski, then I turn, too, and head back through the forest.