By Sharon Lynch

The smoke started billowing into the living room. Clouds and clouds of thick grey was rapidly filling the corner of Mark’s living room where the wood stove sat. He tried not to panic. But he didn’t know what to do. Of course the smoke alarm began blaring, and that only added to the chaos. Then his alarm went off.

What a dream, he thought as he padded into the kitchen to start coffee. While it had been a dream this time, there actually had been just such a fire years before, when he first started using wood heat. He reminded himself how far he had come in the meantime. Hauling and splitting wood. And most important – having the stove pipe cleaned yearly.

When he first moved to the country, Mark had a bit of a “know it all” attitude. After all, he had been a cottager for decades so he figured he knew everything he needed to know about living in a rural environment. He had even spent the occasional winter weekend at the cottage, picking away at a small chord of firewood he had bought from a local guy. But back then, he had chosen mild weekends, and the cottage stove was rarely used. It was different when he moved out of the city and into a house on a sideroad.

Once he got the knack of wood heat, Mark fell in love with this method of warding off winter’s frigid blast. It was so basic, he thought. What an incredible day it must have been when our ancient ancestors discovered fire. Everything changed. Sort of like the computer revolution, he chuckled. Everything changed.

Now people could turn on their furnace from work or their car. So using a wood stove was hardly the only choice Mark had in the modern era. But he preferred it. It reminded him that he was a human animal with fundamental needs like heat. It wasn’t complicated, and the rules were simple and straight-forward. And he, not some distant expert or authority, was in charge of it. This was not a common occurrence in the rest of his life.

It was a perfect winter morning, and Mark decided to go for a walk before settling down to do some work around the house. There was a cold wind, and he could feel it bite into his skin. But he pulled up his hood over his toque and set out. It had snowed the night before, but the snow plow had already smoothed the road’s surface, and the sun sparkled on everything. It was invigorating and calm. Although he lived on a township road, there were few year-round neighbours and hardly any cars.

What Mark didn’t realize at first was that beneath the freshly plowed roadway was sheer ice and sure enough, down he went. Hard. In fact he managed to hit his head when he landed as well as twist his ankle. Rubbing his head with a mittened hand, he started to get up but then felt the pain. It shot up his leg. Darn, he thought. Home was about half a mile back the other way. If this was summer, he’d probably find a stick or something to lean on as he walked but now everything was covered in snow.

And it was very cold. Once he stopped walking, he could really feel the wind. It bit into him like a ravenous, frigid demon. Now Mark was getting a little nervous. People froze to death in this kind of weather, and though he didn’t want to over-react, he knew he had to get home. Just then Jim his neighbour came along in his pick-up and stopped. Jim could see immediately that Mark wasn’t in good shape. After helping him into the truck, Jim drove him home. 

The wood stove had never looked so good to Mark as he hobbled into the living room and hung up his coat. He’d get an ice pack in a little while, but right then and there, all he wanted was heat. A basic necessity for any cold creature.