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Woodstove in winter
braiding
nhwaterspirit
As a child I wanted to be a vestal virgin.  I had a book of Greek and Roman legends, and while I didn't know the meaning of "virgin", I loved the idea that some girls, back in history, spent their days tending a flame.  I had always liked playing with fire:  bonfires outdoors,  fires in the fireplace, and candles on the table.  A job being in charge of a fire?  Yes, it sounded right.

Now, and for the past 25 years, I get up and stoke the wood stove, almost every winter morning.   When we chose this way to heat our house I was excited by the idea of "heating with wood".  As a child I had lived in a house with fireplaces, but they weren't the primary means of heating, and the climate in southern England was much more temperate than New Hampshire.  I did learn how to light a fire, but my parents did most of the real work.  But given the choice of a gas heater or a wood stove, I knew I wanted the stove..

In my first winter in this house in southern New Hampshire, I  learned the reality of warmth and cold.  Building a fire every morning and evening took time, and could be long and frustrating.  We had to get up on very cold nights to stoke the stove, and couldn't leave the house for long without  worrying that the pipes would freeze.  So the romance faded, but I found that I still loved fire.

Over the years we've had ups and downs, including two chimney fires, and we do finally have a backup gas heater.  I have learned something about fuel and air and heat, and keeping the chimney clean.   I still feel that thrill when the fire "catches" from paper to kindling to log, and the stove gets hot enough to warm the room.  It feels right.  And I am proud of the ability to lay a fire so well that it will take off with just a single match.

Last Christmas my mother gave me a warm bathrobe, which I wanted, but it turned out to be a beautiful shade of - pale blue!    Not exactly what you'd wear when carrying logs or sweeping ashes - and I couldn't bear to tell her.   At 91, she had probably just forgotten about my woodstove.  I began to wonder - what did those vestals wear?  I had pictured them in white tunics, like my childhood book.  Of course, dark grey would be a better choice, or old rags like Cinderella, who was also covered with ashes.  So, while I love the pale blue, I wear an old sweater to tend the stove, and put the bathrobe on afterward, when I sit down to drink my first cup of tea.

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I forget how much growing up with a woodstove has framed my sense of the precious nature of warmth in the winter. I miss the fire and the satisfaction of the roaring flames but I don't miss the work.

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