It’s a “perfect storm” in the Northwoods: extreme subzero temperatures and low availability and high cost of propane. In churches, restaurants and the post office, all that people are talking about is the weather and propane. There are lots of stories about wearing winter coats inside, or the couple who took out a short-term loan at the bank to pay for their propane. I called our propane company this morning to get on the list and was told that from now on, there will be no personal checks accepted. We have to pay in cash or with a money order, because they’ve had too many checks returned marked “NSF” – insufficient funds. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been their customer and have always been good for the money. From now on, it’s cash on the barrel head (or left in the propane tank dome cover, whichever applies).
Today, I’m deeply grateful for our fireplace insert and the wood in our woodpile. I stand in front of my hearth fire to warm myself since we’re keeping the temperatures inside around 60 during the day to extend the amount of propane in our tank outside. The fire warms up our living space to the mid-60′s, and long underwear does the rest.
Standing in front of the fire got me reflecting on the word “hearth.” I hadn’t realized that “hearth” refers to the floor of a fireplace, the brick, stone or cement part that usually extends into the room. It comes from several roots, one of which is West Germanic and means “the burning place.” Of course, there’s also the more symbolic reference of “hearth” referring to family life in general, as in “hearth and home.”
Some years ago, I officiated at a winter wedding up here in the Northwoods. It seems like few couples choose a winter-themed wedding, so in the ceremony, I talked about the season in which they had chosen to be married, when our Northwoods are pristine and lovely, cold and crisp. It’s a season when we remember what keeps us warm and how important it is to prepare for winter. I reflected on gathering around fireplaces or wood burners — our hearths. And when we gather around those “burning places” in each of our homes, we stay connected.
When you burn wood, there is, of course, the spring/summer/fall task of cutting, splitting and stacking one’s firewood.
You have to think ahead and prepare. But firewood isn’t our main source of heat, and too often I think of our fireplace as contributing more to a homey atmosphere and as a symbol of warmth rather than as the source of my very survival.
With these on-going sub-zero temps, though, I’m changing my perspective. I have to attend to my hearth. I need to attend to my hearth, and home, and all that keeps me connected and alive and warm: all the most important things that are at the very center of who I am or who I long to become.
For what else in my life haven’t I adequately prepared? What relationship fires haven’t I tended, what stockpile of disciplines haven’t I practiced?
What is burning in my hearth?? What is burning in yours? What will be at the heart of my life - or yours – whatever that life may bring?