On a spring evening, wealth is measured in an armload of kindling
Some people gather firewood out of necessity.
The sun was low in the sky when I made the decision to vacate the farmhouse and sleep for the first time this season in the log cabin, far from the road that was still thrumming with commuter traffic in front of the farmhouse. With only a stone hearth for a fire and no utilities, the place doesn't get much use in the cold months, but as the evenings grow longer and occasionally soft and balmy, the simple structure with its antique bed, oil lamps, and silence begin to tug at me again.
Last night looked perfect for cabin sleeping, and I had just enough daylight to hike back and gather some kindling – a small fire would offer both light and a bit of warmth into the night.
As the cabin season flowers, the dogs grow keenly attuned to my evening postures. If I open a book after dinner in the farmhouse or start on some project requiring good, steady light, they pad to their beds and flop down for the night. If they catch me slipping that book and a crossword into a canvas bag – or simply gazing contemplatively out the kitchen windows to the big pasture hill – they launch into spinning dances, growling and whining, eager to get going.
With Charlie away this week, there was no need to discuss the matter, no reason to prolong their frenzied anticipation of hiking and enjoying the big expanse of fine-smelling pasture in the last light.
I opened the back-porch door and they crowded out together. They were well down the gravel drive to the gate before they looked back to make sure I was coming.
As we followed the cow paths down to the stream and crossed it, the sound of the cars and trucks on Bethel Lane grew fainter. By the time we climbed the steep hill to the undulations of green fields dotted with our cows, the road was but a faint, distant hum. I opened the door to the little log room's splendidly plain welcome, slipped in some window screens, and headed back out for my kindling.
Sassafras trees edge most of the pasture. The gnarly twigs and branches they shed smell tangy and burn brightly, popping and crackling almost conversationally.
I like the rhythms of gathering a bundle of kindling. Walking and bending, filling my arms with the free and fragrant fuel affirms my connection not only to the farm that provides it but also to women in distant and poorer countries who go through the same motions. I know that few do so with the leisure and ease I enjoy; many an African woman's search for firewood must be hurried and desperate as her children wait for a meager meal – but I feel a connection nonetheless, if only by the promise an armload of kindling embodies.
When I light a fire in the hearth, its radiance bounces off the quartzite stone and spills across the room's cherry floors. The sassafras speaks, and the dogs scratch at the screen door to come in from the dark. I read in the small radiance of a kerosene lamp as they circle down close to the bricks.
I feed the fire now and then, thinking that one night soon I'll carry back the makings of my evening meal and put the fire to real use under the hanging Dutch oven – saving just enough of whatever kindling I've gathered for heating the kettle in the morning. It's a calculation I've made hundreds of times over the years, often down to the stick, an acknowledgment of the real value for millions in an armload of kindling.
This is why, although our trees weep branches and twigs onto the pasture and my 10 minutes of bending and straightening fuels and lights a late-spring evening, I sit in the aura of my kindling fire, look around the little log room, and feel like a wealthy woman.