A 365-Day Project
"We Are All Mozart"
A project to create
It doesn't take much to improve one's outlook. Something old and new at the same time, and a little extra space. Serenity is in easy reach, for at least a few hours.
Summer before last, we picked up a wood cookstove to replace our current one, which was a little too big for us, and now intended for the next family generation up the road and over the hill. The old old stove was white with a lovely blue and gold wheat symbol, and had served for two decades as extra winter heat and the cooking and baking heart of the home once the weather drew around us its icy cloak.
We found the new old stove in the Northeast Kingdom, near Craftsbury, whence hails a chamber music ensemble of some renown and considerable conservatism. After we traversed the rutted driveway and arrived at a garage filled with half-assembled projects, the old gentleman explored us carefully with his judgmental eyes and asked many and redundant questions to reassure himself that we would offer a proper home for the stove he'd cared for. The deal was struck and we loaded up a half ton of cast iron, porcelain, chrome and stove bolts that gave our vintage 1988 Ford Ranger a good afternoon's exercise just ahead of the oncoming rain. We brought the boxes into the kitchen and slowly checked and assembled the stove. It wasn't a long process even without a diagram to puzzle it from parts to whole.
And there the new old Home Comfort stove sat for the winter, because we had neither the strength nor the help to block up the chimney -- the old stove held it up in its entirety, from first floor through the roof -- much less move that half ton of iron out the door. Two stoves, one working, one not, filled the kitchen as we danced around one to use the other for the next eighteen months ... until this morning, when a hired crew of two arrived. Tables, pots, plants, chairs and the sundry remains of daily life were moved aside. Gesualdo and Oranjeboom streaked away in terror.
First the chimney was blocked up. The bottom of the chimney is red enamel stovepipe, connecting at the attic to several lengths of metalbestos that run up through the roof to meet a weatherproof fitting and rain cap. We stabilized the bottom as the crew separated the pipe at the ceiling and lifted it onto 2x6 boards that would serve both to support it and block it from chimneying out our heat until the new stove was ready to be lit. Down came the two lengths of red pipe with their attached stove thermometer, and the old white Home Comfort could be dismantled.
The ash pan was cleared and dumped on the compost pile, and the stove swept and vacuumed. It's remarkable how thoroughly the fine ash can permeate the house, so ash removal is always done with dancerly slow motion. Off came the cooktops, out came the humidifier tank. With the stove too deep front-to-back to go through the door, the legs came off next, rocking front then back. The back panel was lifted off, disconnecting its damper rods and stovepipe foot. Everything loose was boxed up and taken to the truck, leaving only the stove body -- which was too heavy for the crew to lift. Next step was to grab a friend and a piano dolly, and the stove was slowly hoisted into the truck bed for its trek through Riverton and Montpelier and up Shady Rill and its new life making steaming meals and maple syrup for a young family.
The new old stove was pushed into place and almost ready to be connected to the chimney. Almost. The oval damper pipe was missing. Though we could have used an ordinary piece of six-inch stovepipe pressed into the oval fitting, the lack of a damper would make it too hazardous. Using wood heat can be a dangerous business for the novice. The fire needs to be built gently from kindling, finessing the air draft through the stove front and over the wood and up the pipe until the exact balance of air and fire allow the heat to grow. Too little damping and the heat is drawn up and out, and late in the season the creosote in the pipe can be ignited into a blazing and house-destroying conflagration. Too much damping and the wood will only smoulder, making pitiful heat and at worst filling the house with carbon dioxide and then billowing smoke. The perfect fire is lit with a single match, paper to kindling to dry wood, and fed as needed and to ignite new morning fire from embers. My old friend Phil used to pride himself in lighting a single match and never having the fire go out for the entire winter. Folks new to wood stoves not only wrestle with dampers, but also try to light stoves with what the departing fire department calls 'accelerants'; others scoop out the ashes and set them in a bag on the porch or deck, which the departing fire department calls 'stupidity'. (Downcountry visitors are always amazed by the fact that heat is generated by an actual something, not by a thermostat. It's a story I've written about in these commentaries.)
So the stove shop was closed on Sunday and neither the hardware store nor the feed store had oval pipe and dampers. The crew left and we cleaned boot-clotted ash -- it had begun to rain -- and reorganized the kitchen. With the stoves swapped, long-delayed projects could begin, including installation of a desparately needed hood for the propane stove and hanging a pot rack for our myriad cooking tools. And a good coat of paint, once the spiders were encouraged to relocate.
The cats ventured warily back after several hours, stretching themselves low to the ground to reach their plates, now near the new stove. Cats despise change. And their sense of trust is easily betrayed by disruptive change, especially for Oranjeboom, who had just come back from his annual walkabout. Each year he disappears for three days -- we like to think it's to test our concern, but more likely there's simply extraterrestrial world-domonation cat business in progress -- and he'd returned a few days ago. He ate first. Gesualdo remonstrated us hours later. Then he ate.
So our stove will be ready to broadcast some heat tomorrow night, and we'll make our first celebratory dinner by mid-week. The kitchen is clearer, and with almost three cords of wood now stacked and ready, we expect the deep winter will be endured once more.
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
-- Christina Rossetti, 1872
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