So here I am again, sitting in front of a keyboard and resuming my contemplations and chronicles. It’s been a rough several months for me; my friends Dale and Sarah have been kind enough to give me a respite every week or so, welcome sojourns at their bucolic country place near New London.
Sarah has told me that I’m welcome to use her computer when she’s at work (12-hour night shifts at the hospital) or sleeping. I’ve had a problem up until today, though. Her much-used keyboard is missing the printed letters on the keys. I’m not a touch typist, although I can type as fast as I can think with my index and middle fingers. I just need to be able to see a few key letters from time to time in order to maintain my orientation.
Last night Dale swapped out the old keyboard and hooked up another one with legible letters — and now I can type fluently again.
Just to recap recent events and circumstances of my life here in Hannibal: I’ve had no electricity or water in my building for the past eight months or so. It really hasn’t been a third-world period; more like a medieval era. The nights (and some days!) have been getting cold and I’ve been preoccupied lately with survival, just staying warm and keeping my internal fires stoked with food.
I woke up Thanksgiving morning feeling chilled, as I had managed to kick off the blankets during the night. I made some coffee on my propane camp stove and fried a couple of eggs. I realized I had to do something about providing myself with heat. I began to ponder the issue. What does one do when the usual civilized sources of heat, such as electricity or natural gas, just aren’t available? Why, make a fire, of course!
What to burn, and where? I walked down to the local Save-A-Lot grocery store and bought a bag of charcoal and lugged it home. I noticed that puddles were frozen in the streets and gutters; the temperature had descended into the middle teens overnight.
I went downstairs into the courtyard and unlocked the door to a storage area. I found a pile of split red cedar which I had garnered from a farmer’s front yard years ago — clear quartered chunks intended for musical instrument soundboards and braces. The guitar I currently play has a top made from wood from that same cedar tree. I selected the less-than-perfect splits, most of them pieces with grain distortions due to nearby knots.
I found a sharp handsaw and took it and the cedar up to the second-floor porch. Down in the courtyard I’d found an ancient riveted-together iron bucket with a thick wrought-iron bail. The bucket was two-thirds filled with dirt, as I’ve planted marigolds in it for the past couple of years.
I sawed the 22″ cedar splits in half and split off kindling sticks with a double-bladed axe. I started a little cedar fire in the bucket and eventually put charcoal briquets on the new coals. Later in the day I found some old-growth southern yellow pine 2x12s leaned against the brick wall under the porch and began to saw ten-inch chunks from one of the planks as I needed them, and for the remainder of the day I kept warm.
I mentioned that my life and circumstances seemed medieval, but after starting the fire and warming myself I was reminded of the unchronicled lives of humans in the Pleistocene Era, following the glacial ice sheets as they retreated northwards. Next I’ll be out hunting mastodons!
I have a generally optimistic nature. I try to see the good in a situation rather than dwelling upon uncontrollable negative factors. I must say that I’ve really been enjoying my little bucket-borne fire. I spent years heating exclusively with wood and I realized that I’ve missed the ritualistic aspects of making and tending a fire. Fussing with splitting the kindling into progressively smaller splints, seeing how little newspaper I can get away with using and still getting the fire going, and assiduously providing the greedy combustion process with carbon-based food.
I’m reminded of a scene from my rural Knox County days years ago. My ex-wife’s father and mother were visiting us and Betsy’s father Chris was watching me as I quickly built a fire in the stove. As I struck a match and prepared to ignite the twisted up newspaper beneath the carefully-arranged kindling Chris said to me: “Can ya do it with just one match?”
“Most of the time; it doesn’t pay to get in a hurry and then have to start all over.” I replied.
Chris grew up poor in the central Ozarks and I could tell that his question was one he had retained from those hardscrabble Depression days. It must have been a point of pride back then to be able to start a fire with a single match.
A fire is a particularly effective aid to contemplation. How pleasant it is to sit gazing into the flames and letting the mind drift, speculating upon the future and remembering scenes from the past…
This period of my life hasn’t been all bad luck and setbacks! Even seemingly unfortunate and trying times can provide interesting experiences and food for thought. The two main things I’ve learned: things can just go to hell faster than you ever imagined, and having friends and family certainly does help!