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13 December, 2010

The Fire Inside

This title must already have been used on a bunch of crappy books about sports, self-published memoirs of entrepreneurs, self-help compendiums of snippets wrung form the experience of Winners, and all manner of motivational junk.

My post is about fires, inside. Also about heatilators, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Or maybe not, because I am shiftless, or maybe shiftful. Or just full of shift. In any case, not driven by some internal fire, an unflickering force, or some burning yearning. (Maybe one, but hell if I'm gonna admit to that on the internet.)

Although it's the time of year when my pyromania is confined to the den, I still enjoy a good fire. Right now is nice, the family all tucked in bed, me sitting here with the dog, writing. Me, that is. The dog is no help at all in composition, being more of a sculptor.

Morning fires may be my favorite, though. My 5-year-old has been helping me some this year, placing some of the kindling before the lighting, but for the most part this is another solo domain. If I happened to be motivated enough top bring in more wood the night before, or not motivated enough to brun the evening's supply of wood, there will be enough sitting there under the cantilevered hearth to get going. But more often than not, the first task is fetching wood. On good days that means brisk air under a crisp sky, or even a nice foggy blanket. Other times, it's a dash through the rain.

Then the ritual of turning castoffs into tinder and kindling. I've been working through the yellow pages this year. There was a thing on the news lately about Seattle levying a fee on phonebook publishers, the logic being that they dump these things on every doorstep, and almost all of them end up unused, part of the solid waste stream. Seattle obviously is wanting for pyros. As for the kindling, I've used everything from broken drawers to failed carvings (only actual wood though). This season it has all been the last of the leftover fence boards, sawed and split pieces that were so short or damaged they could not even make a birdhouse floor, snap-crackling cedar, unfailing faggots of flame waiting to be unleashed.

Then the building, setting everything so that a single match of flicked bic can set the tongues a-licking and flames a-rising. Despite being inside, I still set it up like a campfire. I have about the most primitive fireplace possible in a 20th Century house,  with the exception of the heatilator (which I still intend to address later, though I can feel my resolve getting bored and threatening to walk off). So it's a teepee in the corner, usually, cedar and paper with bigger wood erected over it, bigger wood still at the ready. 

Then, flame. Keeping an eye on it, ripping another page from the phonebook if the fire stalls, placing larger pieces where they will catch best. Feeding those hungry tongues with good wood, letting them lick higher, and piling on more. 

I grew up in a house where fires in the fireplace consisted of 3-4 logs, parallel, on a grate. Now that I am in charge, they look more random, and change shape as the conflagration progresses. Lately, I've been into stacking them so they look vaguely (or maybe exactly, for all I know) like Korean characters: black-charred strokes hovering on an orange background. I love that every fire is different, and every moment of each fire unlike the one before.

The new fire roars and cracks. Flames grow higher and whiter with intensity, threatening to climb the chimney. The heat begins to shoulder cold aside. As I add big logs, mixing in hard maple to mate with the flaming fir, I let things subside, and shift my attention from getring things going to building a bed of coals. The big flames having blasted a perimeter of warm air, the task now is to heat up the ton of masonry, which eventually helps heat the whole house.

Along with the heatilator.  Like I've said before, this house has a passive convection system mortared into the fireplace itself, simple and unbreakable, dependent on nothing more than a fire to start pumping air. The state of the art has long since passed this by, what with inserts and fans and pellet-stoves, gas logs, fake electric fires, and all that crap. I know this not only because big box hardware stores have relegated wood grates to some dark corner while new "systems" take front and center, but because of the "stats" feature of this blog.

It turns out that the "Heatilator" post is one of the most viewed. Not so much because there are other aficionados out there, but because there are confused people out there searching for "heatilator air velocity" or "tv over heatilator." That they should end up on a blog with the rantings and ramblings herein is sad for them, and evidence that the web is pretty damn hard up for information on a technology that is not old enough to have developed an antiquarian patina, and not new enough to be a catalogued and well-cached component of the computer age.

But I digress, which is possible when a fire has reached its mature stage. Sizzling slowly, a few logs feeding each other, sustaining a happy glow and an occasional outburst of flame, maple releasing its heat slow and steady: the lifelong love in a warm bed of embers following the passionate flames of the outset. Asking only for the occasional log to keep heating the house. Nothing spectacular, but these long slow burns have more to do with lower utility bills than the big flames.

So I hope that if you were searching for useful information on those holes in yourt fireplace masonry and ended up here instead (the TV will be fine if there is a mantle between it and the outlet vents, by the way, and probably would be otherwise), I hope that this found you sitting by a fire, enjoying the shifting of the flames, the diversion of attention.

But I think you need to go poke those logs to keep the fire breathing, and maybe add another log.

Good night.

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