Starting a fire in a cold grate is tough. It’s been raining here and even the wood in the shed is wet from sheets of water blowing sideways. My kindling is a little damp. It smokes when I lay it on the pile of flaming newspaper and cardboard. I get close and blow like bellows. Finally there is enough heat to get a serious updraft, enough fire to burn off the wood water and eat into the flesh itself.
It is the week after Christmas. After the rush of it all I have a week of quiet and rest. I spend it mostly sitting by the fire, reading and writing, taking walks and spending time with the family I must mostly abandon during the run-up to the holiday. The fire is the focal point. We start it early and tend it all day long, then bank it at night, close the glass doors and let the heat last us through the night. Every morning there is a pile of whitish gray ash where rugged logs once sat. If I am lucky there are red embers beneath the pile. I dig with the poker in search of buried treasure,stirring oxygen into ash, blowing fuel on the nascent fire. I put my hand over the white bed and feel a rise of heat.
Now it is easy to build the day’s fire. I go out for kindling and firewood. Doesn’t matter if it is wet. The bed of embers is strong enough. I lay the kindling on the embers and bellow once. A wisp curls upward. Steam escapes the wet twigs, then smoke, then a yellow spurt of flame. My fire is back. I can feed it anything now. Last all day.
This morning the fire spoke to me. Said, Tend your hearth. It’s hard to keep things going when the fire goes cold, when there are no embers. Hard to keep relationships going. Hard to keep painting or writing or cooking or wood-working when you haven’t done it in days or weeks or months. Hard to keep praying when it’s been so long. Tend your hearth.