The Woodsman: All I Want for Christmas Is a Cozy Fire
By Steve Wilent
What do you get for a woodsman who has everything? Well, almost anything. For the past umpteen Christmases I’ve sent Santa a letter saying that I’ve been (fairly) good this year and to please bring me a new Ford F-250 Super Duty pickup truck. Either I haven’t been good enough or F-250s don’t fit in Santa’s sleigh. That, and I bet even Santa can’t afford a $75,000 truck.
So what do I want that’s reasonable?
Nothing: nothing but this – a fire in the woodstove on Christmas eve, with a night log added before going to bed, a cozy fire on Christmas morning, and family and friends to share the warmth.
I have fond memories of cozy fires in Christmases past, and Thanksgivings, too. As a child my parents, my brother and I would make the hour-long drive to my mother’s parents house for one or both of the holidays. My mom and grandma would make the traditional roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and the best gravy in the world. And peas, always steamed peas. And my grandmother’s pumpkin pies and sometimes mincemeat or raisin pies.
After dinner, my grandfather would tend the fire, which had been smoldering in the stone fireplace all day. He’d add a bit of dry, pitchy Douglas-fir to the oak logs to start building a bed of hot coals for the night log, a big chunk of oak that would burn slowly until morning.
Later, our teeth brushed and pjs on, my brother John and I would get our last hugs of the day before settling into our twin beds in the narrow chilly bedroom, which had once been a screened-in porch, just off of the living room. Covered in flannel sheets and hand-made quilts, John and I would listen to the low murmuring of the adults and the crackling and hissing of the fire, watching the flickering firelight dance on the walls and ceiling, before falling asleep.
And in the morning, Grandpa, who had been up and about long before John and me, had the fire blazing again.
These days, I have a fire in my woodstove just about 24/7 from early November to late March, except for the days when I clean the chimney, which then safely satisfies our need for wood heat. As I cut firewood each summer, I split logs into pieces of various sizes: from small for kindling to large for night logs. A night log might weigh 20 to 30 pounds, depending on the species. Lodgepole pine and red alder make fine night logs, and if I don’t have those, I’ll use Douglas-fir, Western red cedar, or Oregon white oak, if I can get it. My woodstove can hold a log 12 inches wide, 10 inches tall, and 18 inches long. When placed on a bed of glowing coals with the air vents closed, such logs are usually still burning 10 or 12 hours later, ready to be kindled into a fire for the day.
Yes, burning night logs adds creosote to the chimney. To me, cleaning the chimney often — three or four times a year — is worth it. So is having my own chimney brushes. You can borrow chimney brushes from the Hoodland Fire District for free — can’t beat that price. If you don’t want to clean your own chimney, call a professional chimney sweep. Do it even if you’re not sure your chimney needs cleaning. Once ignited, a heavy creosote buildup can ruin your chimney and even start your house on fire.
So, a cozy fire is all I want for Christmas. That’s not much to ask for, but in these crazy times, it’s a necessity. It’s hard to forget what’s going on in our nation and the world, but on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, sharing that fire and forgetting all that for a while is a welcome respite, a tonic. And the best part is that there’s no need for the excuse of a holiday to have it.
Have a question about firewood and burning it? What’s the ideal gift for your woodsman, woodswoman, or woodsperson? Let me know. Email: SWilent@gmail.com.