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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Wood stove versus forelimbs and other body parts

Every year I enter into an inexorable battle with firewood and the wood stove.  There is a fatefulness in my approach to the season. I know I'm going to suffer somehow in connection with keeping the home fire burning, but I don't know, in advance, what form the injuries will take, or the frequency. Don't tell me it's merely a matter of paying attention: It's all chance -- or in the hands of gremlins and goblins.

One year, you might remember, I dropped a very heavy piece of firewood onto my stocking-footed big toe, breaking the nail and leading to a long firewood-related association with my podiatrist. That was due, I admit, entirely to my enthusiasm for getting the wagon loaded and the firewood into the house, mistimed to coincide with my half-asleep just-home-from-work state of consciousness. I still bring in firewood as soon as I get home from work, with my eyes at half-mast from the relaxation of escape. I still pitch it, piece by piece, into the wagon with some speed and vigor. The evidence of having learned from my errors is this: I wear shoes now while I do it. Who says you can't teach an old dog?

Once the wood is indoors, in the woodbox next to the stove, there remains the challenge of getting it into the stove. Challenging enough when it's a cold stove and a yet-to-be-born fire. The new stove has a much bigger opening than the old one, but when the chore is to add wood to a nearly molten stove, the door to the firebox still seems to shrink by twenty or thirty percent.  Picture John Tenniel's Father William-shaped me bent double, head down and angled on my neck, trying to see inside the stove so as to aim the log. My face glows red, my hands hold a small oddly-shaped log that must be inserted at an exact angle so it doesn't get stuck half in and half out. (I've done that, too, and had to wait until the inside end burned enough to jam the rest of the thing in.) Last year, or the year before, I accomplished, by accident, something I would not have been able to do with days of planning. I managed to burn the very same spot on back of my forearm, five inches above my wrist, not once and not twice, but three times. At least one of the burns landed on top of a burn earned only the day before. I thought the scar, once it became a scar instead of an oozing wound, would last forever, but I can hardly find it now.

Last night I was extraordinarily mindful while I attended the fire. I had just drunk a cup of coffee spiked with Hershey's powdered cocoa, sugar and milk (delicious!) and my eyes were as wide open and alert as ever they get. The wood in the stove had burned down a good deal; there was a lot of room to add the planned few logs. I chose, from the woodbox to my right, a diminutive piece of firewood. It was triangular and, at its widest point, six inches in diameter. I  slid it with optimistic rapidity into the pulsing, glowing red maw. The far end hit a snag, causing the near end -- the one in my fingers -- to ricochet downward. 
Toward the red-gold coals on the floor of the firebox.
Thank goodness for caffeine and whatever it is in cocoa that's like caffeine but isn't. I was alert! My reflexes were onboard and active! The message from my eyes ("Fire!") went to my brain and the brain quickly sent back the message: "The fingers will melt! Away!"
My forearm jerked upward, away from the viciously blazing coals. Excellent. No burning flesh on the fingertips.
The back of my hand met the top of the opening with the force of a Bjorn Borg backhand, causing immediate swelling. And pain. Exacerbated by the fact that the cast iron around the opening was nearly as hot as the coals from which I was in flight.
This latest mark is an inch thumbward from my wrist, and is spectacularly bruised and puffy, with a nicely ruffled edge of melted-and-set flesh on one side. It's only about an inch long, and it's in a spot that doesn't get a lot of friction in my daily life, so it isn't so painful -- only yet another scar in my annual battle with the wood stove. 

It's only late November. 
Wood stove season will go on for another four months, at least. 

15 comments:

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Having watched quite a few people pit their wits against wood stoves , I have every sympathy with you .
But I'm still envious ... there's nothing like them for toasting one's toes .

Eileen said...

Ouch! I haven't had a wood stove in over 35 years but I haven't forgotten how easily one could get burned.

Hope it heals quickly!

Olga Hebert said...

Good grief, you are a danger to yourself and others.
My wood stove is going unused now because I would have similar stories to tell if I tried to light it up myself. There have been jobs I was willing to take on, but others that I just won't.

June said...

S&S, the perfect warmth is the reason I continue with this quest. There's nothing so comforting as the heat from a wood fire.

Eileen, thank you for your good wishes. This latest will heal. By that time, something else will have happened to me. A sliver, at the least. But I'm getting to be expert at splinter removal, too, so . . . no worries. Please don't suggest gloves. I can't use them because I can't feel what I'm doing. I suppose even the burns are useful in that way...

Olga, a danger to myself and others! As I recall, that was grounds for commitment to mental health care. Tell my husband! Quickly! It might be the first step to disability retirement! Yeehaw!

DJan said...

OwowOW! That sounds painful. Glad to know your brain was in gear so that it wasn't worse. I haven't had to deal with a stove and fire like that, but you make it sound almost like a romantic adventure! :-)

Tom Sightings said...

Well, you know what they say about wood. It heats you twice -- first when you chop it and split it and haul it; and then a second time when you burn it. Anyway, I wrestled with a wood stove for 15 years, but finally gave up. I'm too old for that stuff now.

June said...

Tom . . . and then a third time when it cooks your flesh.

rachel said...

Tongs, June, tongs..... and maybe learn to use fire mitts.....long ones that come right up your arm! I bet you have some somewhere....

But I'm with you on the warmth from a log fire - nothing better for humans or beasts. We have to fight to get near ours to add more logs, the hearth rug being littered with comatose animals who are most reluctant to move.

Hilary said...

Ouch! Sounds like you need finger grip asbestos gloves for Christmas. And something stronger than what Hershey makes - with which to spike your coffee AFTER you tend the fire. Or perhaps a wood pellet stove. ;)

I hope you're healing well and quickly.

Oh and I just read back over the comments where you say you can't feel what you're doing with gloves. However if you develop enough scar tissue you won't feel what you're doing then either...

Carolynn Anctil said...

Yikes. I'd be approaching that beast with a cross and holy water. Seriously though, might I suggest a pair of heavy gloves that reach up the forearm. Otherwise, you'll keep branding yourself like a prize heifer. *wink*

Friko said...

What is wrong with you, have you never heard of fire tongs? Then there are pokers and miniature shovels and other paraphernalia. The Brits have roasted themselves at open fires for millennia - hence their hot and cold nature - and they have the stoking of fires down to a fine art.

Watch out before you turn into a cinder yourself. Now that you’ve rediscovered the joys of blogging I need you here, all present and unharmed.

June said...

Fire tongs. A couple of you have mentioned them. I used them when we had fireplaces and I could grasp each piece of wood at its waist. They worked well for that. I'm not sure I have the Paul Bunyan forearms for maneuvering firewood with tongs at the ends of the pieces.

And thank you, Friko. Lovely of you to say you need me.

Vicki Lane said...

Oh, my goodness! And you haven't even mentioned splinters and residual poison ivy vines... do take care! (I have a few of those burn scars myself...)

Rose ~ from Oz said...

How the dickens did I miss this June! I'll have to liven my act up.
I thought I was the only person alive who has fire box stories and the scars to prove it!
Splinters, don't forget the splinters. And how about the creepy crawlies that inhabit the wood pile. Oh no, that's right we've got all the nasties over here in Oz-tralia.
You've got several months yets to notch up some more wounds. Start a group girl - I'll show you mine if you show me yours and all that. :)
All the battles are worth it, there's nothing like a wood fire! I miss a fire so much!!

Barb said...

But, I thought you could be friends with this new stove. Luckily, my gas fireplaces light with a switch.