I gather the smallest shavings of wood. The stuff that falls between the wooden pallets that keep the firewood off the ground in the woodshed. It’s been dry at least a whole season if not more, so I know it makes good kindling.
Winter fires are big and quick, Spring fires are slow and small. That’s the way I think of it, the difference between the fires.
On winter mornings, the coals in the wood stoves are still glowing from the night before. All I need to do is open the door and damper and pile the wood in. I leave the door ajar till the smoke is gone and the flames are deep orange, swirling, consuming the wood. Then the damper stays open for another hour or so to heat the chimney flue and help keep it clean. I eventually close the damper two-thirds of the way down.
All day long I’ll stack the woodstove. Filling it with logs. It feels like on the cold days it burns quicker, but I’m not sure if that’s true. I don’t know the science of the fires, only what I observe.
Spring fires begin with a cold stove. The fires burn out overnight, the embers turn to ash.
In the morning I tear a piece of newspaper into quarters and crumple them into small balls. I place two snugly in the cold ash then I choose two long tall scraps of wood and stand them on either side of the newspaper, their tops leaning on each other for support. I fill in the open areas around them with the rest of the wood scraps, making sure to leave space for air to circulate.
These are more oddly shaped pieces of wood, hunks of broken bark, paper-thin splinters, a rotten chunk of branch from the maple tree. Nothing bigger than seven or eight inches.
Then I light a match to the newspaper and watch my little sculpture start to smoke and glow. When I close the woodstove door, leaving it slightly open, the flame grows. It feels like it’s getting just the right amount of air or draft.
The little fires get hot enough to make the stove tick and pop, the cold metal expanding as it heats up. It sounds like popcorn on the stovetop. First a single tick then a little while later, another. Soon the tick becomes a pop, the sound softer and more frequent.
Once it’s established, I lay down two big logs. One on the floor of the stove to prop the other one on. I place the second log carefully over the little fire, to give it something to aspire to.
As the day goes on I’ll feed the spring fire one log at a time. Keeping the house at a pretty even temperature depending on how much the day warms up outside.
I’ve come to look forward to making my spring fires. There’s something gentle about starting small and building the fire up gradually that appeals to me. Each little pyre is its own small sculpture constructed of scraps of wood, like one of my quilts or potholders.
Spring fires are more thoughtful. They slow me down because I watch each one to make sure it’s caught, make sure it’s taking off. In those moments, I learn what the fire will do. How it will travel. In those moments, the fire talks to me.
And then there is always a time to leave it alone. A time when the fire no longer needs my attention and becomes its own thing.