A Year in the Round: Of Hearth and Home

Reader Contribution by Natalie Morris
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A few days ago, I installed my very first wood stove in the tipi. I was hoping I could prolong the warmth-by-firepit-alone for a bit longer, but after spending several nights in a row at 39 degrees and inside a sub-par sleeping bag, I caved. The stove itself is nothing impressive, an $80 find from the lengthy online list of my good buddy Craig. She’s a little rusty, but with plenty of miles ahead of her. Her firebox is wide and open, ready and willing to heat my little rent-free oasis in the wilds. 

Last night I got the fire started in the wood stove on the first try, with just a couple pieces of paper (as opposed to a million, like usual). Never in my life have I been a person who obsesses over combustion, until recently. I’ve never needed to! In my experience, a man has always adopted the fire, caring for it, feeding it, and lovingly stoking it. A hearth is never homeless. Not to mention, I’ve never had a wood stove before. My family used gas. Warmth, to me, has always been just a thermostat dial away.

When I make a fire in the tipi, it’s not just for a good time; it’s for survival purposes. This is not a recreational, backyard marshmallow roasting soiree. I must tend to it, make it thrive, in order to be warm and eat. No one else is going to do it for me. For the past couple nights, I have spent a large portion of my evenings sitting in front of the stove, perfecting the burn and acquiring knowledge. Trial by fire? I try to understand how each individual piece of wood will burn and compliment the current combustion situation, where it would fit best, and at what angle. I can’t get it too hot, and don’t want it to burn down too low. I check the thermometer obsessively. I may or may not have fallen in love with a designated fire-poking stick. What happens if I prod this log, move it over onto that log, turn it over? How does poplar burn in comparison with cherry? Red oak vs. white oak? 

Study hard, I will. Like my freshman year history final, there is no curve on this exam.