Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Lighting the Wood Stove

Setting the fire in the wood stove I position one split log of oak across the back of the grate, and one along each side. Until late last autumn these logs were a branch blown down a few hundred yards away from here in a public park in Lancaster. From that park I brought home three burstingly heavy bike trailer loads. I'm assuming the branch must have been weakened for a while before it fell, because my new meter shows the moisture is already below 25%. The logs don't hiss or bubble, and our chimney sweep tells me 25% is fine (although the meter makers recommends 18%, or less). Into the space between these three logs I place torn and scrunched up junk mail, then reach into a small wire basket which hangs above the stove. It contains dried and drying orange (or other citrus) peel which makes a surprisingly fierce, oily firelighter (and is generally considered too acidic for good garden compost). The grandsons help us with peel collection and always have a bag ready when I visit. On top of the peel goes a handful of dry birch twigs collected recently on a short walk around Baines Crag (a former quarry for millstones, five miles away on the fells), and on top of those go several snapped hazel sticks which after a few years in my hurdle fence had become brittle beyond repair. The hazel stems once grew twelve miles north of here in a neglected coppice near Yealand Storrs. On top of the hazel go a few slightly larger pieces of long-dried willow driftwood collected with the bike trailer from the banks of the Lune two miles from home. As the fire gets established I feed it with three years old chunky wedges of sycamore from a friend's garden across the city, alternating with more oak from the park. Adjusting air input as necessary, I occasionally check the gauge on the stove pipe as it quickly pushes up into clean burning temperatures, then it's time to sit back, stare at the flames for a while, and watch the new heat-powered electric fan as it pushes generous warmth all around the sitting room, into the kitchen, and up the stairs.