Plain old firewood?

Posted 03.04.15

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | This winter's frigid temperatures remind us that the proper term is not "global warming," at least not around here. "Climate change" is the concept, even "runaway climate change." Sometimes cold, hot, usually fierce, always destructive -- that's climate change, and this winter our household had almost burned through our total wood supply by February first.

Wood heat, as common as it is, is extravagant. Obviously we can't grow trees quickly enough to keep up with our robot-like population growth, so there's a day coming when wood heat will seem old fashioned and indicative of how oblivious we were to the changing world around us and to the effects of this thoughtlessness.

Already I feel guilty when I place a block in the furnace. Majestic and slow-growing oaks, maples and yellow birch, they deserve better -- all that has gone into their growth and life, the wild weather, the fires they've survived, all the history of the world which these old beings each represent.

There is something ritualistic in burning wood, committing it to the flames, returning these great trees to primal fire. Not the rituals on our greeting cards, and not even the ceremonies at the furnace, protecting ourselves from the cold, keeping the home fires burning.

The ritual is found in imagining once-living wood returning to elemental fire, a ritual binding of the cosmos to the duality of darkness and fire. By burning wood, we're retuning it to what-it-is, to the fire of life which produced it. We are participating in the ceremonial ultimate end of everything in the universe: by fire.

And, if it's not fire, we're consigning the world into inter-planetary cold and dark.

Putting well-seasoned wood into the fire is a form of prayer, a performance, one not directed toward any Force or Being but one of acquiescence and acknowledgment of our place in the cosmic scheme. We're dealing with Big Things: fire, life, endings.

If my fire gets too low, I crumple birch bark and stuff it under a piece of smouldering beech -- and soon the flames are licking their way up. This prayer of firewood has to include a recognition of how easy, how close we are, to the ultimate condition of things.

When all the fires have burned low or out -- what then? How could the energy of the cosmos dwindle away? Where could it go? What of the indestructibility of energy? The crumpled birch bark is a metaphor of re-kindling all our fires, its ease.

What makes a fire a ritual -- and makes arson not a ritual -- is our purpose, our intention and good will, and especially our respect for all that we use and depend upon to stay alive.

And behind this philosophical approach, we remember with each block of red oak we toss in, the world could get much colder. That's climate change, and it's ours. Even our smoke helps it along.


Copyright © 2015 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.15