Pitch and hatchet

Fireplace with a fire burning and logs stacked all around.
Someday, when I build my mansion, I may add a fireplace just like this. Thanks to volunteer contributor “Coffee” and Pixabay for this image.

Three or four years ago my husband acquired three large fir trees worth of wood. Last month, because of a change in the backyard for the dogs, we now have better access to the firewood from the backdoor. I’m a wimp. If I have to go out in the rain with a bad back and haul firewood in one armload at a time, I won’t do it. But now, there’s a ramp and covered wood storage right there! New hobby!

The wood is fairly old, and some of it is soft and starting to rot. It must be burned! It must! I’m not “wasting it when we might need it some day, I’m using it up before it goes bad! Yes, yes, that’s it! So, I get my little trundle cart (we have a WOOD CART now! It’s amazing!) and roll it down the ramp (slippery, be careful), open the gate (close it again so the dogs don’t wander the neighborhood), load up the cart (it holds more than five armloads, and I can do that even in the rain), roll it back up the ramp (dogs, gate, slippery), into the house, and light a fire!

Wait, what? You mean there’s a method to lighting a fire? It’s not just throw in wood and light a match?

Now, when I was a child, we had a fireplace. I loved to watch the flames. (I still do, but now they’re in metal box, so no more lying on the couch staring into the fire. I have to kneel by the open door to watch the flames, but that’s ok, because I have more to get done these days anyway.) Mom taught me how to build a fire, over and over, fireplace, campfire, fireplace, campfire. I thought I had it down. I applied all those lessons.

Nothing. I’d get about twenty minutes of smoke, and then pfffpht. Another little pile of wood bits, more paper, another match. Cardboard, leftover candle wax, another match. A whole candle, three pine cones, more paper, and five more matches. Smoke, smoke, smoke.

Turns out, building a fire in a big metal box is different. Airflow is key. So is good wood. I made hub do it, so if he didn’t, I was fireless all day. I kept trying. One day hub says, Oh, you should use the good wood, not that stuff.

Wait, what? There’s good wood? YES. Turns out, it’s absolutely LOADED with pitch, the fire-builder’s stuff of dreams. So this morning I lived the dream. I got down on my garden kneeling pad (no carpet by the firebox), hefted the ax (smallish, but I keep asking for a hatchet, and if I don’t get one for Christmas, I will go hatchet shopping, don’t think I won’t), and split off a strip of kindling. What’s this? This honey-colored, satin-finished hard stuff? Why, it’s pitch! Dreamy fire-builder’s gold. One particular piece of wood (they pop up occasionally in the wood pile, placed there, I’m sure, by the beneficent wood-pile spirits) had loads of the stuff. I hefted that ax, cutting off the tiniest strips I could manage, laying them gently in my fire-starter-storage basket (with handle). Two strips seemed to be pure pitch (WOWZA) so I made hub chop those up into little two-inch sections with his pruning shears, which are quite up to snuff for such things.

And the smell! Or I should say, scent or fragrance. Astringent, sharp, crisp, nose-hair-curling, turpentine-like, fir-y pitch. Just delightful. Fire crackling, nose hairs curling, I stared into the flames. Ahhhhhh.

And because of the pitch, the good wood, and proper airflow…it only took one match.

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