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We have button heat, too, but it's the living room woodstove that centers all family life from November 'til March.

In the red 

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We move it all inside this month; the people, the plants, the dogs, even the cats some nights.

The first frost warning is a reminder. Did I clean out the woodstove and the flue pipe last spring? Where's the nearest woodpile with the driest logs?

We have button heat, too, but it's the living room woodstove that centers all family life from November 'til March. The quilts and blankets come out. Also favorite pillows and thicker socks. Every morning there is a pile of layers of clothing, magazines, homework, books and newspapers in a perimeter around the stove. Usually a few tea or hot chocolate mugs, too.

Heating with wood is like a small industry. Trees that encroach on garden or orchard sunlight are cut down in the winter. At stove central, it's wood in, ashes out. Fill the pots on the cooktop with water to keep the moisture up. I have a whole collection of oven mitts and padded gloves to move the logs around. The special pokers and shovel are close by, too.

My favorite part of the whole wood heat scene—besides seeing everyone so darned laid back and comfortable while the winds wail, as rain and snow pelt the windows—is watching the stovepipe thermometer. I swear that's how our kids really learned their colors.

The thermometer is attached to the exit stovepipe, measuring the temperature of the smoke going up the chimney. A good, safe fire burns at about 350 degrees. Much less and it's creating creosote that coats the flue. Too hot and the fire ignites the built-up chimney deposits.

Years ago, we had a funky rainbow thermometer magnetically fixed to the stove pipe. At a glance, one room away, you could tell the temperature. The arrow pointed to blue when it was too cool, sending lots of smoke and soot up the chimney. Straight up yellow was just right, most efficient use of whatever wood we were burning. "In the red" signaled danger or at least "pay attention."

"Hey Dad, it's in the red" was a frequent conversation starter if we were burning through a supply of sweet gum or tulip poplar, holding back the hickory for seriously cold nights.

When the arrow arced to red, it meant the stovepipe was over 500 degrees. That's hot.

But we have a huge cast iron stove, so the red felt real nice sometimes. A woodstove is not like an electric or gas stove in one important regard. You can't just "turn it off" quickly. I can find the cool-down air dampers with my eyes closed.

In the still quiet, in the middle of the night, our stove sometimes creaks. It sounds to me just like the old casings are settling in for a nice, long, warm winter's sleep, like the old brown dog curled up snoring a few feet away.

'Round about April, we're all a little in the red ourselves with every part of the wood heat regime. The ashes, the loose bark, the hauling in and out. But right now on this side of the cold front, it's a wonderful, budding romance.


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