Record cold has kept me in front of my wood-burning stoves far more than I'd like this winter - and cutting/busting wood more than I like - but in the flames I have been compelled to stoke and watch burn have made me consider lessons found inside the firebox.
Nothing burns as fast as we wish, despite our wish to banish the cold. Nor can we hurry that demanding class in algebra, the menial job, the difficult child, the funeral for a loved one or friend. Nor does the fire burn as slow as we wish - the summer night with loved ones, the satisfaction of a job well done, the dreams we fan flames to, the life we constantly try to stoke.
Nothing burns as hot as we wish - whether cold, ignorance, impatience, bigotry on hatred, they all hold on with the grip of steel. To melt them seems to take far too much time, but stopping the effort is no option.
We cannot force a square peg in a round hole, or the night log into a space not made for it. All of us cannot be Babe Ruth, Thomas Edison, Clint Eastwood, George Carlin, Lady Gaga, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama or Mother Teresa. We must gauge each opportunity and set our sights on what is right for us and those around us. We must consider what we can do in the scheme of things, where our talents lay, and not fall victim to forcing the wrong log into some preconceived hole in the firebox.
Ignore the lifetime of the fire at your peril and do not forsake feeding it as needed. Re-creating a fire, a love, a life, is never easy.
Ignore the source of your wood supply at your peril also - if you wait until the last moment, you will have fewer choices and fate will choose for you on what your burn and how much you pay for it.
Constantly re-position damp wood to make it ready for use - how many things in our lives are we just "not ready for prime time?" Maybe we need more education, more focus, more dedication, more humility or more patience.
Burn seasoned wood along with the green wood for a balanced fire. I wish employers would remember this. A 25-year-old will be up on emerging technology, faster, prettier, and cheaper - but the old dog is loyal, knows the basics that work, can teach the young pups, and is no longer enslaved by the ego of beauty.
Empty the ash box. As fire cannot breathe if constricted, neither can life breathe with leftovers of days gone by be weighed down with the unnecessary. Let us strive to lessen our burden, holding on to the important people, places and (fewer and fewer) things.
Somewhat related, clean up the mess heating with wood, and living, brings. Not only is it safer, but is more appealing to spouses (very important) and guests.
Keep your chimney and/or pipes clean, with all parts of your system under close scrutiny and repair - listen to your doctor and do likewise for your body.
To heat with wood, have faith and conviction in your efforts and do so with the zeal of the fire of life itself. But acknowledge to all things there is a season. Remember, despite bitter cold, challenge and tragedy, all will eventually yield to warmth and the darkness will yield to light.
Still, the fire will eventually die, the embers turn cold, before spring and rebirth follows.
Let us take solace in the truism that, for those of us with Faith, the blaze will miraculously return on the other side of the Gate, a blaze to be yearned for that will burn forever and need no further tending.
We will then be judged on how we tended the fire.
Mike Chambers resides on Lookout Mountain.