keeping the flame alive

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All the snow and winter mayhem this week had us thinking a lot about warmth. When we bought the farm there was no working heater or AC. Mike spent that first long winter living in the empty house by himself, stripping walls and floors and ceilings and painting just about everything he could touch for weeks on end. In the end, we estimate about 70 gallons of primer and paint was used (and that’s just on the inside) before the old place started to come alive again.

There was no furniture at the time — nor heat — so Mike spent each winter evening huddled by a 40-year-old Buck Stove for company. That, along with an air mattress and a plastic laundry basket turned upside down for a dinner table, was about all he had. And I think he loved every minute of his solitude that winter, especially the nights by the fire.

Truth be told, I hated that hunk of wood-burning cast iron at first. Tacky. Rusty. Too country. Boy was I wrong. Not only did it keep our man warm, but it has come to serve as the centerpiece of the great room where we gather to eat, watch movies, play board games, gaze out the windows at the horses, the dogs, the pond, the deer who tiptoe into the open when they think no one’s watching, an occasional hawk, crane, even coyote, and the comical parade of wild turkeys and their babies. The old stove anchors the room — and our home — and we’ve come to cherish it. So much so that we burn fires in it almost year-round now, and when we built the little pool cabana outside we found another Buck Stove in a store’s back lot in Kennesaw and hauled that baby all the way to Alabama.

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In “The Joys of a Wood-Burning Stove” (Wall Street Journal), Ruth Graham shares her own appreciation after a long winter in rural New Hampshire. “Tending to the stove has turned out to be a deeply satisfying daily ritual. Before bed, we fill up the stove; each morning, we load new logs onto the smoldering embers; in between, we stoke it every couple of hours. As long as we tend to it, the fire never dies—a nice metaphor for life….” Amen.

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