05:17AM 04 NOV 2018
This morning I woke in darkness to the sound of a light rain on the metal roof of this half-built cabin. It was a little chilly inside but not too chilly for November. The dial thermometer which hung on the inside wall read 62F. I slept hard through the night and did not wake to add fuel to the wood stove. I lay under the warm covers gathering courage to get up and rekindle the fire but courage did not take long and I soon climbed down from the small loft where I slept.
I opened the door of the stove and stirred the fluffy, white ash and knocked down fragile structures of dust – the skeletal remains of the hot-burning cottonwood chunks I put in the stove the night before. Small, red specks came to life and revealed themselves as they were freed from the layer of ash which protected them and kept them smoldering all night. I pushed the glowing embers into a pile and carefully stacked dry pine shavings and twigs and small kindling bits which were prepared months ago and stored in cardboard boxes waiting for this moment. I closed the stove door and opened the air damper and sat on the cool, earthen floor in front of the stove and peered through the thick glass pane – the show is about to begin. After several moments of watching the pile of embers struggle under the weight of the dry pine, smoke started to wisp from under the kindling. Wisps of smoke turned to a column of smoke which escaped from every gap between the stack of kindling slowly catching fire and smoke filled the stove chamber. I cracked the door of the stove and let in a rush of air sucked in by the draft of the smoldering wood. The growing embers reached a tipping point where the rush of oxygen mixed with the hot gasses and flames burst from under the stack of kindling. I closed the stove door again leaving the damper open. I continued to watch the small, eager flames lick around the chamber and the once smooth kindling crinkled and bent and began to crack and fall apart the way corn fields dry and crack and become dust in an August drought. As the kindling fell into a bed of hot coals, I grabbed two larger chunks of wood from beside the stove and sat them in front of the stove to wait for their turn in the fire chamber. First went in the chunk of cottonwood which caught flame almost instantly as it was nestled on the bed of coals. The second chunk of wood, a dense round of spruce, took longer to catch flame for it will hold the fire much longer than the cottonwood and smolder for several hours.
I watched the show in silence. My mouth did not move as my mind began to wander. Scenes from my dream of the previous night appeared in the flames. The growing flames bent and flickered and rolled against the roof of the chamber desperate to find any crack or hole or opening in which to escape the confines of the black steel box and into the open and free air. The blue and orange flames rose and fell and rose again as the wood shifted and fell apart and shifted again. The chamber of the stove was lined with brick which holds the heat and protects the steel walls. As long as the bricks stay whole, the steel walls would remain strong and not wear out and last lifetimes in this half-built cabin. The fire grew hotter and the bricks grew hotter and the steel walls of the stove grew hotter and radiated its heat in waves and began to creak and smell like hot metal as my mind wrestled with the flames confined to the chamber. Even though I rescued the smoldering embers from the ashen remains of the night’s fire and I stacked new kindling on the embers and nursed the embers and gave it new life, the radiant heat of the chamber was now almost too much to bear. I built this fire and now it was pushing me away.
Why did I build this fire? I did not need this fire for comfort as it was chilly inside but it was not too chilly and I was not uncomfortable. I did not need this fire to cook food as there was food already cooked. I did not need this fire for light as the electric lights were in order. I built this fire just to watch it burn. I could control this fire. I brought this fire into existence and I could send it right out, again. I could open the stove door and the fire would burn hot and fast and pop embers onto the earthen floor or I could shut the damper and the flames would shrink and shrivel and the embers would dim and die a slow death. I could have not built the fire at all and the buried embers from the fire of the night before would have never been noticed and they would have dimmed and died a silent death under grey ash. I controlled this fire. With the damper I pushed the flames into chaos and into order and back into chaos, again. I isolated myself in this half-built cabin controlling the hot, red glow from the burning of the once-living organisms that surround this cabin. Everywhere there are seeds in tree cones which sprout and live and grow into trees and become old and diseased and die and fall over onto the ground of the dark valley in which this cabin was built. I try to control these trees, too. I grow thick grasses to out-compete the seeds in the tree cones which fall in the fields and I snip the saplings when they are young and I cut the mature trees down and move them off the road and split them into chunks when they are dry but I cannot control these trees. Each time I cut one tree down ten more begin to grow in its place. I cannot control these trees as I control nothing around this half-built cabin. Try as I might but I control nothing. I isolated myself, staying in this tight valley attempting to control the valley but I cannot control the valley. I can only control myself and even my own self I cannot control wholly.
The flames which grew large and rolled against the steel walls of the stove chamber became small and insignificant. A lively bed of coals were scattered in piles along the bottom of the chamber. I thought how I controlled this fire and how I tried to control this fire. Then, I thought I probably didn’t control this fire. That was unlikely true control, anyhow. The fire in the chamber burned off the dead wood and tipped between chaos and order.