Cozying up to that time of year

The lane to the cottage.

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.

The cottage fireplace.
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.

As the wind picked up, a golden shower of leaves rained down.
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

Fireplaces provide benefits far beyond warmth

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I asked if anyone wanted to help bring in wood for the fireplace, only one person volunteered. Our two-year old granddaughter said she wanted to help.

On went her hat, coat, mittens, and the mini-muck boots that her older brothers wore when they were her age. Maren followed me around like a miniature shadow, constantly asking questions.
Firewood by Bruce Stambaugh
To play along, I asked questions too, like what color the blue wheelbarrow was. “Yellow,” she said without hesitation. I wheeled it behind the shed to the winter’s stacked wood supply.

I carefully tossed the split hardwood into the wheelbarrow. Of course, Maren wanted to imitate her Poppy. I handed her the kindling pieces. Now and then I gave her a weightier one, and the sharp little blonde quickly let me know that it was “too heavy.”

Maren hung in there like a trooper despite the cold. The tip of her nose turned red within minutes, quickly followed by her cheeks. She never complained, just kept helping to load and unload the wood from pile to wheelbarrow to garage. She even learned where the “little ones” went and correctly deposited them all on her own, while Poppy stacked the heavy pieces just outside the door to the family room.

Gathering wood is just one of the satisfying rituals of having a fireplace. The effort reaps more than needed wood. I enjoy the exercise, and find the aromatic discharge from the chimney invigorating as it mingles with the cold air. I even gain a certain satisfaction in watching the light smoke swirl from the top of the stubby brick chimney. Altogether it spells contentment.
Dancing fire by Bruce Stambaugh
Indeed, having a fireplace is really all about enjoyment. A fireplace may be inefficient. But I savor the all-inclusive ambiance of a blazing fire, its fragrance, its crackling sounds, the penetrating warmth and the simple beauty of a dancing fire.

There is nothing quite like the pure warmth of a fireplace fire to take the chill off of a frosty fall evening, to enhance the beauty of a snowbound day in Amish country, or to free you from the numbness of a damp and miserable spring day. In each situation, I sit in front of the fire until my bones are warmed.

Watching the fire flicker away in multiple colors, constantly changing shape and posture, and occasionally spraying golden sparks warms both body and soul. When family is home, like they were at the holidays, the fireplace becomes the center of activity Holiday gathering by Bruce Stambaughexcept at mealtime, unless roasted hotdogs and toasted marshmallows are on the menu.

I think I got this affection for fireplaces from my father. On rare occasion, he would light a fire in the living room fireplace at home. When that happened, it was truly a special family time.

Each home we have owned has had a fireplace for all of the aforementioned reasons. Even our cottage, which my parents built, hasCottage fireplace by Bruce Stambaugh two fireplaces, one on the main floor, and one in the walk out basement.

At home I buy my firewood each year, usually from a local farmer. It provides his family with extra income, and my family and me with immeasurable joy. Since the cottage is built in an expansive woods, we gather and split dead wood for our fireplace.

We often have a firewood frolic to get the job done there. The neighbor volunteers his hydraulic splitter. I round up some young, willing helper who enjoys showing off his youthful prowess to lift the heavy logs. My expertise is stacking the split wood just so.

Having a fireplace may be considered a luxury in some corners, an inefficient heating effort in others. Maren by Bruce StambaughI take a different view. Added altogether, the affable socialization, the exhilarating labor, the fire’s soothing pleasantries, yield rewarding results.

If your granddaughter helps bring in the wood, it’s all the better.