My wood stove stole my freedom. The independence I cultivated through years of working late nights in return for long afternoons when I want them has gone up in smoke.
I’ve been turning down midafternoon hikes in favor of staying by the fire. I missed a late lunch meeting because I had started a fire and didn’t want to leave it unattended. I told a friend she would have to come to my place, because the fire was roaring. I cut what was supposed to be a long run short because … Well, you guessed it. I didn’t want the fire to go out while I was gone.
I had been tempted with commitment before this.
There have been animals giving me that puppy dog stare through a shelter’s Facebook post. I’ve nearly adopted them, thinking, “I have a flexible schedule, I could take such good care of this dog!” But that thought always stopped short, just before I started naming him or her in my head, when I remembered that I covet that flexibility. (Plus, dog-sitting a week or two here and there is usually enough for me.)
I’ve tried to make recurring weekly lunch runs or meetings a staple on my calendar, but within a week or two I’ve moved it to the night. I’ll meet you every day if you want, just as long as it’s before 11 a.m. or after 5 p.m. Midafternoon is my time.
I’m lucky to have it, to be able to head out in the sunshine and go for a run or hit the post office at an off hour. I stood up from my desk and just walked around town for an hour on a particularly sunny afternoon recently — a breath of fresh air.
Yes, I’m lucky but I know that without that flexibility when I first moved to Alaska, I wouldn’t have stayed here long. I fell in love with summer easy enough during endless days. But, the colder months started off on the wrong foot — that first morning of heading to work at 9 a.m. in the dark.
Winter wooed me the only way it could — during my free afternoons. The sun was still shining when I would hit the ski trails for a few hours, before heading back to work at dark. I traded in all that extra darkness for a few coveted hours of sunlight. That was last winter, though, when my rent included heat and there wasn’t a wood stove in sight.
This winter, as the days grew shorter and colder, warmth fleeted from my home and with it, my independence.
It’s all the wood stove’s fault!
It’s not the greatest wood stove. It has a bit of a wobble and takes awhile to heat up. My wood needs to be drier than dirt and everything must be laid out in a very particular fashion for the flames to rise. It prefers egg cartons over newspaper and short logs over long.
Once it’s lit, I have to be nearby for the first 15 minutes to make sure it doesn’t die on me. (It’s fun to pretend you’re a doctor and yell, ‘Don’t die on me!’ until you realize you’re talking to a meek flame in your wood stove.)
When I finally get the thing hot, I start rotating logs from outside to the side of the wood stove and then to the top in hopes of drying them out enough to keep the flame going. Someone pointed out to me that it’s not a very safe storage spot, but if the flame in my wood stove is lit I don’t leave its side.
With the temperatures down, and staying down it seems, my wood stove is often lit. So, my afternoons belong to the wood stove now. My independence has blown up the chimney and into the cold Alaska winter air.
I’m lucky, though, because my toes are toasty, my home is cozy and all this wood-chopping has given me plenty of time to think of dog names.
What do you think of “Smokey”?
Kat Sorensen can be reached at email@example.com