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.