Sunday, March 05, 2006

Winter ways

I’m getting the hang of burning wood. And I am watching my own perspectives shift. I used to set the thermostat and wait for oil deliveries, like anyone who has an oil furnace. Now I start the weekend with a wood fire in the combination furnace, and I enjoy my house all the more because it is warmer than my penny-pinching would tolerate of the oilman. Actually, I run a three-fuel household, applying oil, gas and wood each in its best use as I see it. The oil is the backdrop, with a small gas stove in the living room for a cozy fire that warms my toes when the north wind kicks up. I have appreciated both, but I revel in the dry, toasty warmth of a wood fire in the furnace.

Now it seems luxury to be able to sleep through the night without stoking the fire. The oil burner kicks in, and I stay cozy under the covers. This morning I went down and found warm ash that sparked when I stirred it. Ah. A little newspaper, some kindling, and a log, and we are in business again.

You have a relationship with a wood fire that you don’t have with an oil burner. A wood fire takes skill to build (learnable), it needs tending, and it repays your care. I can see how burning wood could be an essential element of the Vermont winter experience—its warmth, its fussiness, the daily repetition of task. Not to mention the extended work of getting wood in. City-spoiled as I am, I will order up a couple cords to keep my weekends toasty. I know how hard people work to bring in their wood.

Yesterday at a neighbor’s sliding party, I met a guy who brought a big black sled with a rope handle. Heating his home entirely by wood, he needs to make trips into the forest from time to time, hauling back the little stuff and bigger stuff on his sled. I suspect that despite the gruff exterior, he also needs a slide or two each winter. I gotta get me a sled like that.

The sliding was great to watch, the party a little daunting. I have been here three years, and I don’t get a lot of invitations. Shy to a fault, I force myself to accept most invitations so that I put myself in a position to interact socially—not so bad once you get past the reserve. Fortunately, Vermonters don’t really care if you talk to them or not. You can just stand there and admire the sliding technique, later bring out the puppy on a leash to get her a little socialization, too.

I am here to report to my Southern kin that if these people were magically transported to a Georgia hillside on one of those biennial occasions of four or five inches of snow, they would be amused at how little we warm-dwellers know about sliding. I had been to a sliding party once before, but that one was populated by transplants, who simply do not get it.

Everyone of every age took some kind of trip down the hill in total abandon to the triumph of gravity over friction. The Vermont-born take to the snow like otters to a stream, whooping and falling, going down in groups, then scrambling out of the way before the next slider knocks into them like bowling pins…or sometimes daring collisions and rolling in the snow. Teenagers were present in number, and despite a few moans, “Maaaaa, do I have to be here?” were the most active sliders. One girl, pepped up on cold and laughter, stopped on the way to her parents’ car to flop down and make one more perfect snow angel. I have always thought of sliding as an activity for little kids, but it was clear that they were just learning. The parents were right in there, falling off their tubes and rolling in the snow, laughing at themselves and along with their offspring, demonstrating that sliding technique does take decades to perfect.

Clothing and equipment and party venue all are designed for this kind of an afternoon. When I first moved here, I would not have believed that people can have a party that is mostly outdoors on a twenty degree day. There was a heated garage space to accommodate people who needed to warm up—that’s where the food and beer were—but mostly people were outdoors for hours at a time. Warm boots, snow pants (no fancy schmancy ski clothes here), and peculiar looking but functional headwear make this possible. Sliding equipment ranged from tubes (the ones for sliding are filled in the middle) to snowmobiles to the hot new skateboard-on-a-ski. No making do with cafeteria trays or cardboard boxes for these serious sliders.

In the hours I was there, I eventually unbent enough to consider going down the hill. It helped a lot to see one of my board members demonstrate the superior sliding technique developed over his forty years of life in Vermont, whooping and hollering as he did so. He also confided the important tip that you should never go down the hill with your beer in your pocket. But by then, I was cold and the puppy was fussy. Maybe we will get our own sliding equipment and she can pull me along—I think she would like that kind of work. Or then again, maybe you can only properly slide at a party, laughing and bouncing off your neighbors, warming up with chili and hot chocolate, and going out to do it again.

1 comment:

Mary Beth said...

Warm boots, snow pants (no fancy schmancy ski clothes here), and peculiar looking but functional headwear make this possible.

Sounds like a great time was had by all!

Plus, as I'm sure you know from journeying out with the dogs, when you're outside for long periods of time in the cold, it makes the house seem extra warm when you go back in.