Chop, zing, chop, zing, chop, zing, chop zing, zing! Words can never recreate the sounds we hear, they can only approximate the sounds we live with. As a kid, these sounds marked the production of kindling to start the fire in our combination electric and wood kitchen range. This stove stood sentry over the kitchen and all that happened around our kitchen table.
The wood was cedar, carefully cut and dried. This white cedar grew with wonderful lines so when it was split it looked like it was cut with a saw. My father and his father before him were experts at cutting these thin, ¼ to ½ inch strips of wood used to start the morning fire.
I always marveled at the sound and the way in which the cedar strips flew from the large cut piece, the small hatchet a blur as the chop, zing, chop, zing song was repeated over and over again. Each chop resulted in a strip of cedar that would burst into flame and start the morning fire.
My job from age six on was to gather the strips of cedar in my short little arms and carry those strips to the kindling box that sat next to the wood box in the entryway of the back door of my family home.
My farm boy father built a fire in the kitchen stove every day, summer, winter, spring and fall, just “to take the chill off,” as he would say. In those rare moments when the temperature in northwestern Wisconsin stayed in the 90s with lots of humidity, there was no fire. However there were times when my father, sitting at the kitchen table drinking his coffee, looked somewhat longingly at the stove, tempted, I’m sure, to build a fire.
What I remember most about those morning fires was the sound that the cedar made when it burst into flame. There was just a little newspaper set ablaze with a wooden match, with the cedar stacked on top, and then there would be a little snap, a pop, and the cedar would catch fire and then the firewood, oak, or maple or birch, sometimes basswood, would start burning and the heat would begin to radiate out from the stove to heat the kitchen. The snapping sound of the burning wood, the smell just ever so faint of the smoke from the morning fire fills me with memories.
It is now winter and I live in a city. But I do have a fireplace and each time I start a fire, I reach in my mind’s eye for the kindling, the white cedar kindling with which to start my fire. It is not there. We can buy “fat lighter” pine strips with a dried sap that will start the fire. But buying it is not the same. There is no chop, zing. There is no pop when the cedar catches fire. There is no smell ever so faint of the smoke from a morning fire.
Did you have a woodstove somewhere in you life? Did you ever learn how to split wood for kindling? If you did write a story about a woodstove fire, a fireplace, filling a wood box or building a morning fire.