November, that unpredictable month, has turned on us. Last weekend the chickens were sleeping in the sun; this weekend they’ll be hiding in the coop listening to the rain drip off the downspouts. Ever heard the expression “madder than a wet hen”? They’re not really mad–they’re anxious. If their feathers get wet, they mat down and can’t keep the bird’s body heat trapped next to her skin. So she could die of hypothermia. We have a big coop, so on rainy November days, the chickens are content to bed down in the pine shavings and just wait it out, hoping that tomorrow will be better.
I do the same in a metaphorical sense. While the weather was good, the DH and I got wood in for the stove. With a pile on the hearth and another staged in the garage, we’re good for a couple of days while this storm plays itself out. When I first moved into the mountains, I had absolutely no idea how to get a fire going in the stove. On my first attempt, I crumpled up a bunch of paper and put some logs in on top. The paper burned merrily and went out while the logs just sat there. Well, you can only keep stuffing paper in for so long until you give up, wondering how on earth your pioneering great-grandmother kept herself warm in her soddy on the North Dakota prairie.
But the DH, who has lived with woodstoves all his life, taught me how to do it. So if you ever rent one of those romantic getaway cabins that doesn’t have a propane fire with a remote control to ignite it, here’s how you do it:
1. Shovel out the old ash and make sure the air intake vents aren’t blocked. Open the flue (very important or you’ll get a faceful of smoke).
2. Crumple up several pieces of newspaper into tight balls (they’ll burn longer). Eight balls will usually do the trick. Arrange them in one layer.
3. Lay your kindling on top of the paper in a cross-hatched stack: 2 pieces facing away from you, 2 pieces on top of that parallel to you, and 2 pieces on top of those facing away again.
4. Lay 2-3 small pieces of wood on top of the kindling. By small pieces I mean branches smaller than your wrist, or split pieces an inch or two thick.
5. One larger piece on top of it all.
It may seem like you’re balancing the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but once everything finds its angle of repose, it will be fine and won’t tip over. Now light the paper in 3-4 places. The air coming through the air intake will carry the flame from front to back, igniting the kindling, which will ignite the smaller pieces on top.
When the fire is roaring nicely, put another heavy piece of wood on, close the flue, and enjoy!