Embers crackle in the woodstove near my chair, wispy drifts of steam rising from the kettle warming merrily atop. The stove is an active character in our cozy tale, a high-maintenance member of our hard-working family, needing constant tending, appeasing and cajoling. The digital thermostat and audacious gas-fed heater of the mobile home are but a distant memory, the few weeks that have past seeming like a lifetime. Now, on cold nights, the circle of our experience seems to close in, reaching only as far as the flickering light of the flame. Warmth has a new significance.
I have forgotten fashion, like the memory of a past life. Function reigns supreme and in my many layers I often feel like Mrs. Whatsit, appearing in the storm. Boots are indispensable and always coated in clay-rich mud. We postpone bathroom breaks, showers, anything which, by necessity takes us from our cozy apartment and into the house across the snow.
Our space here is temporary, yet we have learned to live quite well. It is a joyful enterprise to free ourselves from a reliance on running water, refrigeration and high powered appliances. A system of coolers, some iced and in the snow, others protected in the unheated hall keep our food (reasonably) fresh. Cooking is a creative activity, using a blender, the wood stove and a single burner given to us by a neighbor before we moved. I have learned to wash both dishes and children using water heated by the woodstove.
The small space lends itself to family. I wake at daybreak, nestled deep within the soft down comforter, and watch the sky slowly lighten. The wonderfully familiar groan of the woodstove door combines with the crackle and hiss of our morning fire, a daily gift of a father to his family. Dragonfly boy, covers to his chin, smiles at me from the top bunk, not four feet away. In a single motion, he slips from beneath his blankets and leaps from the top bunk to the big bed, burrowing beneath the covers. The stillness of the morning does not last long, for the boy has jumping beans inside him, and bounces beneath the blankets until I have been exposed to the cold one too many times and surrender to the day. His brother sleeps through it all, clinging to every last dream until he is roused to dress quickly and come along for our morning adventure through the woods to the surging brook.
We have learned quickly to hang our clothes by the stove in the evening, to ensure our morning comfort. Boots, too, must be kept nearby, or the insulation holds in the cold all day. Each morning, the boys and I venture forth, breakfast smoothies in hand, and journey up one steep hill and down another, to arrive at the ever-changing shores. Each day brings new delights. Swirling eddies from the snow melt, ice thick enough to place a foot on, crystals that appear in the water when a stick touches the surface… This is a playground of wonders for two young boys. All too soon, it is time for school. We head back through the woods, wash our faces in the bowl of water on the woodstove, and head off to meet our day.