By Bruce Stambaugh
It’s that time of year again, and I’m not referring to the general election. A dutiful citizenry casting ballots is critical to maintaining our democracy, dysfunctional as it sometimes is. I relish a more personal season now.
The Chimney Swifts are gone, and I can once again stoke up a roaring fire in the family room fireplace. It’s my favorite leisurely pursuit of the colder months, and one that I eagerly share with family and friends.
This year I had to wait longer than usual to build my first fire. After the resident nesting Chimney Swifts flew south a week after Labor Day, another family of migrating swifts promptly moved in and basked in our fine early fall weather.
I didn’t mind at all. The affable little birds daily devour scores of insects.
I enjoy hearing the flying cigars, as birders affectionately refer to them, chatter as they dive bomb into the stubby brick chimney. I find it fascinating that these birds seem to never sleep. Their powerful swooshing into the chimney rattles the hearth’s damper day and night.
After the chattering subsides, I usually wait a while before building a fire just to be certain no slackers are bringing up the rear of the annual southerly trek. I need not have worried. They all had gone before the first hard frost.
That said, my first fireplace fire this fall wasn’t at home. That honor went to the main fireplace at our getaway cottage in southeast Ohio. Since the fireplace is faced with Briar Hill sandstone, I didn’t feel far from home, however. The stone is mined in the county where I live.
Like my folks who built the cottage, my wife and I embrace autumn there. Set on the north slope of a steep hillside that runs down to a peaceful flood control lake, a forest of mature hardwoods surrounds the family cottage.
The day we arrived was overcast and damp. A cold front was forecast to push rain through Ohio and gradually cool the temperatures enough to warrant a fire.
The soothing warmth of a fireplace fire adds to the cottage ambiance. I gathered the kindling and well-seasoned logs and with one match, my fireplace season began.
The dancing and laughter of the consuming flames, the invigorating pungency of the burning logs, and penetrating heat mesmerized and inspired me. In an hour the inside temperature of the cottage had increased seven degrees.
There is a satisfying routine in my fireplace ritual. Kindling and logs are assembled on the grate. A match is struck, and a transformation from mostly smoke to flames ensues. The fiery hardwood fuel spontaneously hisses, pops, and showers sparks. It’s a fireplace Fourth of July.
I like to let the fire die down to where the glowing embers throw out more heat than the small blue, orange and yellow flares themselves. That’s when marshmallows toast golden brown.
After a few nudges of the shrinking logs with the poker, more cordwood is added, and the process begins all over again. Over time, the accumulation of the glowing coals means less wood to keep the room comfy.
The conditions for this year’s first fireplace fire couldn’t have been better. Just as the flames reached their peak inside, outside the wind gusted, and golden leaves and a drenching cloudburst rained down together.
It’s that time of year again. Home or cottage, I’ll rejoice and be glad in cozying up to the captivating charisma of a fireplace fire.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2013