We’ve had a spectacular run of blue skies and starry nights. No rain, which is surprising for December on the Oregon coast. But it’s cold, so cold. Still frosty in the shade at noon. If there were precipitation, it would be snow. Every day, it’s a battle to stay warm. Here in the trees, we don’t have gas or central heating. Most houses have wood stacked up for winter. I have a woodshed outside the house with a diminishing supply of raggedy wood, which Annie occasionally takes to the lawn for chew toys. She has created a wonderful supply of kindling for me. After she chews it up, I put it in a bucket to use for starting fires in the woodstove in the den.
I don’t light a fire every day. I have other options, including a space heater and a persnickety pellet stove in the den, our main source of heat.
The pellet stove is annoying. It often fails to come on. If it gets too much ash, not enough pellets or is just in a bad mood, it will start up, hum for a while, then decrescendo into silence. When the power goes off, it doesn’t work at all. This time of year, it eats a 40-pound bag of pellets a day. When it works, it’s a beautiful golden source of heat. Annie and I spend a lot of time warming ourselves in front of the pellet stove, taking care not to get burnt.
I love a wood fire. But you have to tend it. If you forget it for an hour, it goes out, so I only use it when I’m feeling ambitious or when we don’t have electricity. The other night I decided to start my fire. I didn’t have my glasses on and had only a dim lamp for light. As the first sparks were starting to shoot out of the kindling, something didn’t look right in there. A piece of wood near the door looked furry. As I looked closer, I realized it wasn’t fur; it was feathers. I had a dead bird in the woodstove. It had made the incredible journey past the chimney captain, down the chimney, and down the long black stove pipe, including a bend near the ceiling. It probably died on impact. I heard no flapping or chirping.
I grabbed a paper towel and took the bird out, carefully avoiding the growing fire. Cradling the bird in the towel, I took the opportunity to look closely. Shyly, I touched it. So, so soft. Possibly a junco or a finch, it had black tail feathers, a gray chest, and a stubby beak. I felt so sorry for it. After a while, I took it outside and laid it to rest in the ivy with a little prayer.
It’s all about heat around here lately. The other morning, I plugged in a space heater in the bedroom because I just couldn’t seem to get warm. Then I went to blow-dry my hair. I had one side of my hair done when the power went out on the whole south side of the house. The circuit couldn’t take the addition of the heater. Now I know: I can either style my hair or be warm. Given the choice, I’d rather be warm.