Winter in the country is coming to an end. One thing is sure – it has kept me busy. Growing up in the countryside is one thing, attempting adulting while living solo – is another.
I moved here at the end of August. I was charmed by the roses in the garden, the majestic walnut tree that carried a promise of an abundant walnut harvest (which it was!), by the lilac planted by the gate, its branches creating an arch above it.
The house is tiny, hidden from the view by thuja bushes. Inside, only one room: a study and a kitchen, with a mezzanine mini-bedroom that gets way too hot in the evening, constantly heated by the warmth of the fireplace. The floor is wooden, and so are the walls. Two windows on the opposite sides of the room let warm, flickering sun rays into space. I like to watch them dance gracefully on the floor.
A small fireplace is the sole source of heat which, at first charming and lovely, quickly became a chore when the temperatures dropped drastically in November. I’d lie if I said I’ve never considered moving out. The longer I lived there, the more responsibilities kept popping up, and the list of things to do or things to remember about was ever-growing.
Ordering, chopping and storing wood proved to be one of the most challenging tasks, especially for someone without a driving license, a car or a chainsaw (both the actual thing and skills required to use it safely). The always-hungry fireplace kept me on my toes from morning till night, committed to feeding the insatiable fire more and more wood.
And no matter how warm the place was before I went to bed, I’d usually wake up with my nose, ears and feet cold. Many mornings were spent fighting an urge to wrap myself tighter in blankets and stay in bed all day, instead of braving the cold downstairs.
Starting a day from making a fire is a great lesson in patience. And fire is a difficult teacher: demanding, requiring respect and humbleness, but also fickle and wayward. It likes being cared for and admired: not giving the fire one’s full attention when trying to start it, turning one’s head for a moment, or God forbid, walking away from it – undoubtedly results in the fire dying out. As if without anyone watching, it wasn’t eager to make an effort.
There were days when no matter how hard I tried, the fire just wouldn’t start. I’d squat in front of the fireplace, watch intensely how one little tongue of flickering fire fails to spread on the carefully prepared pile of dry sticks and pieces of cardboard. I’d blow some air onto barely-burning logs, hoping it’d bring the fire back. I’d get angry, sometimes even swear at it for not wanting to cooperate when I need it most. I’d cry, convinced of my uselessness, anticipating a dim vision of a stone-cold afternoon. And sometimes, I’d get upset, like a little child: I’d put a jacket on, maybe a scarf, and show the fire my disinterest in its lack of cooperation.
Eventually, I learned: there is no place for anger, hurry or frustration when it comes to fire. Only acceptance of its flimsiness, its wayward nature will bring peace (and desired warmth). With time, thinking about feeding the fire became a habit, a thought that’s always at the back of my head, no matter how hectic the day was. But it took time to get there.
First, I had to reorganise my daily routine to respond to fire’s demands and secure a warm room for my own survival this extraordinarily (and unexpectedly) cold winter. A whole new schedule was in place – and since I’m here now, writing these words, we can all safely presume that – I survived.
I found solace in the fire during this long, cold and solitary winter. Even if days were identical in almost every detail – the fire was always different. It gave a new, much slower rhythm to my days. Remembering to bring logs inside every afternoon so I don’t have to start my morning by braving the minus ten outside, putting bigger logs close to the fireplace so they can dry properly, managing the fire throughout the day so I don’t miss the moment of adding the next big piece of wood – all these have kept me sane in times of limited social contact.
I cooked a whole dinner on a fireplace once, rice and soup. I used it to keep the water in the kettle warm. It added charm to the beautifully cosy winter evenings when the ground was carpeted with snow that tirelessly and silently kept falling outside the window. It gave kitty her new favourite spot for midday naps: the side of the kitchen table that was continuously warmed by the fire.
Cosy evenings by the fire look great on Instagram, sure. But I must say that I’ll welcome spring with a bit of a relief. Waking up with one’s face frozen, chopping the wood, bringing it in every day and having to spend a bit chunk of the morning starting a fire – are things I’ll miss a bit less.
I’m looking forward to rainy March and April evenings though. The sound of fire cracking weaves nicely with the sound of raindrops dancing on the roof. Noticing these little things, stopping to enjoy the moment, to appreciate being alive, even if times are hazy, was my winter medicine. How will it taste in spring?