October 9, 2012, Tuesday

The ninth day of my writer’s retreat.

The cabin is growing more comfortable. I am almost used to the noises that the woods make.  Each leaf that falls creates a sound—some louder than others. As I type this I hear a strange, irregular drumming on a tree, unlike that of the woodpecker I heard last week. I can’t imagine what it is. My dog, Wilson, has not jumped, and he is very jumpy. If not a bird, perhaps a deer? Maybe a buck banging his antlers? Ah, now Wilson hears it. He pricks his ears up and looks lazily around. Whew, nothing to worry about. Wilson is my fear barometer. If his hackles go up, I need to be ready for trouble. I step out onto the deck to enjoy the late afternoon sun—a treat after two grey days.

Yesterday was particularly cold and lightly raining. Once awake I stumbled out into the mists to allow Wilson to take a pee. He won’t go outside without me. It’s rather creepy to be out in the shadowy morning mists with a dog that won’t leave your side. After all, there’s that bear Earl keeps telling me about.

Back in the cabin I tried to light a fire. I found old newspapers stacked beside the box of kindling. I layered the paper in the belly of the cast-iron stove and then shoved kindling and logs on top of the paper, thinking this was the way my father had done things. I struck a match and held it to the edge of one of the sheets of old yellowing newspapers, watching the blue flame curl into a black fist. Once the edge of the paper burnt, the flame died out. I struck another match and another. It was getting colder. Discouraged, I turned on the small electric space heater I brought with me from St. Louis and tried not to think about the cold. The heater warmed a few of my toes. I read and wrote a little. I texted my brother. Eventually Luke called back with the secret of fire lighting.

Ball up newspapers. Don’t leave them flat, they won’t burn.

Make a layer of balled up newspapers about six inches deep and the width and length of the stove.

Place small pieces of kindling on top.


When the small kindling catches, add larger kindling and let that catch.

Now you’re ready for a log—small at first, then larger.

I tried Luke’s method and got a nice blaze going.

Wood-burning stove

Later that afternoon Luke texted to remind me to adjust the damper, otherwise, the wood would burn too fast. I’m glad he told me. I had no idea I was supposed to do that, and the logs were just, well, going up in flames. Once I adjusted the damper, the flames settled down turning the logs into glowing embers. The cabin was so cozy I was able to take off one layer of fleece and then another.

Outside it was still grey and gloomy, and I was not inclined to take the usual walk with Wilson. Instead, we paraded back and forth in front of the cabin until he did his important deed. By then it was time for dinner.

Photo by Marc Renken on Unsplash